Beef measles (Cysticercus bovis) are grounds for concern in the livestock production industry because it causes a loss in foreign markets like the EU that does not accept affected meat. It is an essential food safety issue and its economic effects on the industry could be huge.
Beef measles are fluid-filled cysts that contain a small, immature tapeworm. The size of a small pea, it occurs mainly in the muscles of the very active muscles of the jaw, tongue, heart, shoulder muscles and diaphragm of cattle. The cysts are rarely found elsewhere.
Measles is a parasitic disease caused by Cysticerus bovis, which is a cystic form of human tapeworm called Taenia saginata. There are no visible outward signs of the disease and it can only be found after slaughter when the meat is inspected. The result is that the meat cannot be sold into the local or the EU market. Even though Namibia has a low prevalence rate of about 3%, the disease cannot be taken lightly as it can cripple the livestock industry.
According to Meatco’s Feedlot veterinarian Dr Alexandra Duvel, deworming workers on the farm or any facilities where livestock is handled, can make a big difference. There is no known drug that can cure beef measles; deworming only helps.
“Working with livestock can be a big danger to humans because humans can get cysts in muscle and more dangerously, brain tissue, which leads to disease and even death in severe cases,” Duvel says.
The disease causes damage to muscle tissue (meat) which is caused by the tapeworm’s larval cyst. Cattle act as the intermediate host for the parasite, becoming infected through environments such as pastures that have been contaminated by infected human faeces.
Small white cysts (2–3 mm in diameter) can be seen in the animal’s muscles at slaughter. These cysts are usually found during a post mortem inspection, where multiple incisions are done on the predilection sites of the jaw, tongue, heart, diaphragm and shoulder muscles.
Other conditions that may look like Cysticercosis include hypoderma species (migration to heart), nerve sheath tumours, eosinophilic myositis, abscesses and granuloma caused by injections.
There is no licensed drug available that kills all the Cysticerci in muscle, or any anthelmintic (medicine used to destroy parasitic worms) that has proven to be effective even with regular use.
“It is important to prevent infection, since the condition is not known to exhibit clinical signs,” Duvel says.
There are several actions that you as producer can take to reduce or eliminate the risk of measles infection in cattle. These are:
• Avoid faecal contamination of cattle feed and grazing areas. Farm workers and visitors must practice good hygiene, and toilets must be provided.
• Avoid access by cattle to pastures infected with human waste.
• Sell your cattle to an abattoir where competent meat inspection is practiced so that infected carcasses can be detected before it is taken to the market.
• Do not buy meat from informal (unregistered) butchers because it may not have been inspected and may contain measles. Even for social events at home, it is best to have your meat slaughtered at abattoirs where it is properly inspected.
As the link between producers and consumers, Meatco strives to protect clients by ensuring that our beef is properly inspected and free of measles and any other disease. It is important for everyone to take part and unite in making sure that the cycle of measles is broken. As a farmer and beef producer, it is important to implement, practice and adhere to good farming practices by taking precautions to limit exposure of cattle to measles.