Transmission of Taenia saginata in Belgium

Eggcyste in meatcowTaenia saginata lifecycle



Taenia saginata (beef tapeworm) is a zoonotic parasite, occurring worldwide. The adult tapeworm lodges in the intestines of the human final host (taeniasis) and releases eggs, which are shed via the stool or by active expulsion. The intermediate cattle host acquires the infection by ingestion of these infective eggs via infected stool or environmental/feed/water contamination. Ingested eggs develop into cysticerci, primarily in the muscles (bovine cysticercosis, BCC). The human final host gets infected by consumption of raw/undercooked, infected beef.

BCC causes significant economic losses to the farmers and meat sector. An infected carcass leads to degradation of the carcass value (50% price reduction due to the freezing treatment) or, in case of heavy infections, total condemnation. In Belgium the prevalence of BCC is estimated at 0.3% based on meat inspection; however, this method has a very low sensitivity. Preliminary results from the FOD RF EIDRUC project estimated a prevalence of 36 % in adult cattle, with a high number of infected carcasses termed fit for consumption by meat inspection.

These data bring about a lot of questions on how this infection can be so widespread and at such a high level. As the majority of BCC cases are light infections, transmission is assumed to occur via environmental contamination rather than direct contact with a tapeworm carrier on the farm.

Epidemiological studies have identified risk factors such as, wastewater effluent, sludge from water treatment plants, flooding of grazing land, drinking from effluent streams and tourism (Dorny & Praet, 2007). Little is known about the dispersion and survival of parasite eggs in the environment, and the exact origin of infection (tapeworm carrier: how many animals will a tapeworm carrier infect, how widespread). A better understanding is pivotal for a more optimal prevention and control policy.

The Lab of Foodborne Parasitic Zoonoses aims to address the following gaps (PhD and MSc projects):

  •  Detection and survival of eggs in the environment
  •  Investigate the link between tapeworm carrier and cysticerci
  •  Processing of infected meat

Taenia solium (pork tapeworm) and T. saginata (beef tapeworm) cysticercosis (CC)/taeniosis are zoonoses of public health importance, with significant economic impacts on the health and meat (pork and beef) sectors within and outside the EU. The main objective of this Action is to build a strong, extensive, multi-disciplinary scientific network to induce sustainable collaborations with the aim to advance knowledge and understanding of these zoonotic disease complexes. Specific objectives include the development of innovative diagnostic and cost-efficient control tools, assessments of disease burden and economic impact, as well as the development of harmonized reporting and management procedures. Intra-European collaboration is essential to stop the development of these diseases within the EU.

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