Pig vaccine may eliminate fatal form of brain disorder

Last Updated: Tue, Mar 09, 2010 09:40 hrs

A pig vaccine can eliminate the spread of a fatal form of brain disease known as neurocysticercosis. Tapeworm plays a vital role in the disease.

The disease causes cysts on the brain and spinal column -- the most common cause of acquired epilepsy in the developing world where the parasite is endemic.

Pigs contract the larval form of the parasite from human faeces, it is then passed on to humans who eat improperly cooked pig meat.

A recent pilot trial was undertaken in Cameroon against the parasite Taenia solium which causes 50 million tapeworm infections and about 50,000 deaths from brain disease in the developing world each year.

Marshall Lightowlers, professor of veterinary science at the University of Melbourne who led the study, says: 'The trial resulted in the total elimination of transmission of the disease.'

Tapeworms can grow many metres long and live in humans for years without health implications. Their eggs can hatch in the intestine and the parasite travels to the brain where it causes neurocysticercosis.

'Because the vaccination procedure used was relatively simple and sustainable, it has a genuine potential to form the basis for widespread control of the parasite's transmission and a reduction, or elimination, of the human brain disease known as neurocysticercosis,' says Lightowlers.

An area in Cameroon was chosen as a trial location because 90 percent of its pigs are free-roaming and more than 40 percent of houses that keep pigs do not have a latrine.

The researchers treated 240 three-month-old piglets with a drug to kill off any parasites present before the study.

They then vaccinated half of the animals in the hope of preventing any re-infection by the parasite and distributed the piglets in pairs of vaccinated and unvaccinated animals to households rearing pigs, says a Melbourne release.

After 12 to 14 months, they found live parasites in 20 of the control pigs and none in the vaccinated animals. The trial results will be published in the next issue of the International Journal for Parasitology.



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