Cysticercosis - Fact Sheet
What is cysticercosis?
Cysticercosis is a disease that affects the muscles of infected animals. The livestock species that are more commonly impacted are cattle and pigs. Cysticercosis is caused by the larvae of a human tapeworm.
Porcine (i.e. pig) cysticercosis has never been detected in Canada. It is caused by the larvae of the human tapeworm Taenia solium. More information about porcine cysticercosis can be found on the Public Health Agency website.
Bovine (e.g. cattle, bison) cysticercosis has been found in Canada. However, detections are rare. The last confirmed detection was in 2013. Bovine cysticercosis is caused by the larvae of the human tapeworm Taenia saginata.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has programs in place to help prevent the spread of the disease in Canada.
Is cysticercosis a risk to human health?
If people consume improperly cooked meat containing the parasite, they can acquire tapeworm infections. Anyone that believes they have been exposed to the parasite should contact their local health authority immediately.
Properly cooking meat to safe internal temperatures will inactivate any larvae if present.
What are the clinical signs of cysticercosis?
Cysticercosis infections in cattle and swine are unlikely to produce any clinical signs.
Symptoms of tapeworm infection in people are often not apparent, but if present, typically include:
- abdominal pain;
- itchiness around the anus; and
Less common signs can include:
- diarrhea or constipation;
- increased appetite;
- weakness; and
- weight loss.
Where is cysticercosis found?
Cysticercosis has a worldwide distribution. It is most prevalent in countries where poor sanitation practices on farms are common and where cultural habits include eating undercooked meat.
Bovine cysticercosis is found sporadically in Canada. Porcine cysticercosis has never been detected in Canada.
How is cysticercosis transmitted and spread?
Animals can become infected with cysticercosis when they ingest materials contaminated with tapeworm eggs originating from human feces.
Cysticercosis is not transmitted directly from animal-to-animal nor from person-to-person.
In a typical cattle barn climate, tapeworm eggs are estimated to survive about 18 months. Tapeworm eggs are also resistant to a number of common disinfectants. They can, however, be destroyed by drought, since they do not survive in a very dry environment.
How is cysticercosis diagnosed?
Diagnosis relies on the detection of cysts in the muscle tissue of animals during carcass inspection. Suspect lesions must be submitted to a laboratory in order to confirm diagnosis.
How is cysticercosis treated?
There is no treatment for this disease in live animals.
What roles and responsibilities exist to prevent cysticercosis?
From farm to fork, everyone has a role to play in preventing cysticercosis infection. At the farm level, it is important to avoid human fecal contamination of animal feed and feeding areas.
Cysticercosis is a "reportable disease" under the Health of Animals Act. This means that all suspected cases must be reported to the CFIA for immediate investigation by inspectors.
The CFIA's National Cysticercosis Program is in place to protect human health through the detection of infected cattle and swine at slaughter. Carcasses are inspected at federally registered abattoirs under the CFIA meat hygiene program. All non-federally registered abattoirs must report any suspicion of bovine cysticercosis to the CFIA for investigation.
If an infected animal is detected at slaughter, the CFIA, through its cysticercosis disease control program, would conduct an investigation at the farm level.
Infected carcasses are either condemned or may enter the food chain following treatment.
As always, at home, meat should be cooked to safe internal temperatures to help eliminate the potential for foodborne illness. Properly cooking meat will inactivate any larvae if present.
How would the CFIA respond to an outbreak of cysticercosis?
The CFIA investigates all positive cases and takes the following actions:
- Potential farms of origin, as well as all premises where the animals might have lived, are investigated.
- Premises determined to be the source of infection are immediately placed under CFIA control.
- Under the oversight of the CFIA, owners are required to take certain actions (e.g. cleaning and disinfection, removal of contaminated feed, etc.) in order to remove the source of infection.
- Cattle or swine on the infected farms are moved under licence to a federally-inspected abattoir for slaughter when they reach market weight.
- Severely infected carcasses are condemned and disposed of accordingly while carcasses that are not severely infected are temperature treated by freezing for 10 days at -10°C or heat treated to at least 60°C to kill the parasite. Treated carcasses can enter the food chain once treatment (heat or cold) is completed.
- The CFIA retains control of the infected premises until the source of infection has been eliminated and there is slaughter evidence that the herd is free of the parasite.
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