Establishing a serum bank of samples from confirmed cysticercosis positive and negative pigs

Sep 19, 2018 | A4NH, Blog, FSZ, Latest news, ZooLink project, Zoonotic Diseases |

This serum bank will serve as a platform for future development and validation of diagnostic tools that will allow for a quicker and more accurate diagnosis of porcine cysticercosis. The disease is zoonotic, meaning that it can be transmitted between humans and animals (pigs). The tapeworm, Taenia solium, causes taeniasis in people and can cause abdominal pain, diarrhoea, nausea and indigestion. The larval stage of the worm can infect both pigs and people. In people, the larval stage can become encysted in the brain and/or spinal cord, causing neuro-cysticercosis. This is an important cause of acquired epilepsy – a debilitating disease. The signs of the disease in humans include seizures, chronic headaches, dementia, and may result in death.

“The project aims to establish a bank of serum samples from confirmed cysticercosis positive and negative pigs.”

Fig.1. Making 3mm thick slices

We have organized to visit and buy pigs from 13 slaughter slabs spread across Busia and Kakamega Counties. The process involves contacting a trader/farmer at the slaughterhouse to deliver a pig on site. On the day of slaughter, intricate bargaining with the trader/farmer to ensure value for money ensues. This is a complex process given that the pricing is usually fluid, with no clear parameters to determine the price. The prices are usually based on the physical appearance of the pig which requires a lot of experience. Once the prices have been settled, photos of the pig are taken, and demographic information, such as age, heart-girth measurement and back length, are recorded. The blood is collected at ante-mortem and lingual palpation is performed. The pig is slaughtered and weighted perimortem, and then skinned. This is a source of amusement among the butchers who have christened this ‘naked pig carcass’ as Mbuzi ulaya loosely translating to a ‘European goat.’ The carcass, together with the head, lungs, liver and diaphragm, are chilled overnight and sliced (Fig.1.) in the morning.

The slices ought to be at least 3mm thick to ensure any cyst present can be exposed. This is a laborious process that usually takes 3-4 hours to complete. The most recent studies carried out in the same region recorded a prevalence of 37.6% using a serological method, and 34.4% by lingual palpation. It is such findings, combined with an increase in pig keeping and consumption, that call for such a study. Currently, there exist several serological tests which detect circulating T. solium cyst antigens in humans and animals. Yet most of these tests have poor specificity, leading to a large number of false positives and hence, limiting their diagnostic capacity. We look forward to sharing more insights from this project in subsequent newsletters.

This article was authored by Dr Maurice Karani who is ZooLinK Research Assistant and Field Coordinator.

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