Beef measles is a cause for concern in the beef market as it causes a loss in foreign market such as the EU which does not accept affected meat. It has become prevalent in our meat of late. It is an important food safety issue and although the disease is not a public health threat, its economic effects on the beef industry could be enormous. Measles is a zoonotic parasitic disease that is caused by beef tapeworm cysticerus bovis which is found within muscles of cattle at meat inspection. There are no visible signs as measles in cattle, it can only be detected in meat after slaughter causing the meat to be disqualified from the EU market. Meat is then put in cold storage treatment at -100C for 10-14 days and later sold to non EU markets at very low prices and if many cysts are present, the entire carcass is condemned which is a great loss to a beef producer. This makes this disease of great importance as it can cripple one’s business in livestock. The prevalence of measles is reportedly growing from 10-12% around 2006 to 18-20% to date. This statistics are high as compared to those of neighboring countries of South Africa and Namibia that have a lesser prevalence rate of only 3%.
Beef measles is the visible damage to muscle tissue (meat) in the carcass at slaughter caused by the larvae of a tape worm. Cysticercus bovis is the larval stage of the human beef tapeworm, Taenia saginata. Cattle act as the intermediate host for the parasite. Cattle become infected through access to environments contaminated by infected human faeces, application of sewage to land, or indirectly through mechanical vectors such as birds. All this happens to complete the life cycle of the tapeworm.
THE LIFE CYCLE
How infection occurs
- The parasite has a lifecycle moving between the definitive or final host (people) and the intermediate host (cattle).
- The adult tapeworms live in the intestines of humans. When the tapeworm segments containing eggs are passed in stools (note that the segments for the beef tapeworm can move and leave the body on their own) they contaminate the environment, particularly if people do not use proper toilets but chooses to use the veld.
- Cattle are infected by eating the eggs when grazing.
- Within the cattle, the eggs hatch and develop into larvae (the young stages) living in cysts in the muscles: this is measles.
- People are then infected by eating undercooked meat containing measles. Once in the human gut, the cysts release the young tapeworms, which attach to the gut’s wall and start producing segments. Within 5 to 12 weeks the tapeworms are mature and start shedding eggs (prepatent period).
- It is important to know that in people multiple tapeworms can be in the gut and can survive for 25 years or longer if untreated. One tapeworm can grow as long as 10-12 meters and have over a thousand segments each containing between 50,000 and 80,000 eggs.
- The egg bearing segments at the end of the chain break off and crawl from the anus or are passed in stools. One infected person can pass 8 to 9 segments in a day which is about 750,000 eggs each day in their feaces which are then consumed by animals during grazing and the cycle continues.
Many infections are without symptoms and the carrier may be unaware of the infection. The infection may result in mild symptoms such as loss of appetite, constant hunger, abdominal discomfort, diarrhoea and weight loss. Detached segments crawling from the anus can cause some discomfort and itchiness so it’s best to listen to this signs and get treated to break the cycle.
DIAGNOSIS (Signs in meat)
- In cattle the signs seen at slaughtering are white cysts in the muscles of cattle. The cysts are often smaller and more difficult to see in the case of cattle (may be only 2–3 mm in diameter).
- There are mainly found in the muscles of the jaw, tongue, heart and diaphragm of cattle. They are less commonly found in other muscles of the animal.
There is no licensed drug available that kills all the cysticerci in muscle or any anthelmintic that have been known to be effective even in regular use. Therefore it is important to prevent infection of animals. With humans it is readily treatable in health facilities as well as pharmaceutical stores have these remedies therefore it is important to get treated as modern drugs are very effective in eliminating the parasite.
There are several actions that you as a producer can take to reduce and even help in the elimination the risk of infection of cattle by measles. These are:
Avoid faecal contamination of cattle feed and grazing areas. Farm workers and visitors must practice good hygiene, and toilets must be strategically provided.
- Avoid access by cattle to pastures infected with human waste.
- Identify farm workers infected with the adult tapeworm and give them effective treatment. You may consult your medical practitioner or pharmacist for more information about the available types of drugs.
- Sell your cattle to an abattoir where competent meat inspection is practiced so that infected carcasses may be detected before it can be taken to the market.
- Always cook meat well (particularly in the case of informal slaughter and meat is not inspected). 6) Always wash your hands after handling animals and before preparing food or eating.
- Do not let dogs and wild carnivores eat affected meat, because they can continue spreading some of these diseases.
- Do not buy meat from informal (unregistered) butchers because it may not have been inspected and may contain measles. Even in social events at home it is best to have your meat slaughtered in abattoirs where it will be properly inspected.
- Do not eat raw meat.
- Since beef measles affects both humans and cattle to maintain its life cycle, make an effort to participate in all multi sector committees at community or national level that are concerned with measles prevention and control.
It is important for everyone to take part and cooperate in ensuring that the cycle of measles is broken. As a farmer and beef producer it is vital to implement, practice and adhere to good farming practices by taking precautions to limit exposure of cattle to measles. The middle man being the butcher and meat processors and distributors who are a link between producers and consumers should protect its clients by ensuring that the beef sold is properly inspected and cleared to be free of measles. Finally the public as consumers of beef should support farmers who produce our beef to produce safe food by being considerate and maintaining good hygiene at all times as in the end it keeps us safe and we would be helping the country to move towards a measles free and high quality safe food industry.