Beef measles (Cysticercus bovis) are grounds for concern in the livestock production industry because infected meet is not safe for human consumption which results in carcasses getting downgraded and subsequent 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.
Measles in beef refers to 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 may affect all muscle groups particularly in heavy infestations.
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 Senior Manager of Quality Assurance Dr Adrianatus Maseke, Measles is spread when cattle consume grass contaminated with human feaces, especially where basic sanitation facilities such as toilets are lacking or when fodder such as lucern is produced using sewerage.
The risk of infection in cattle increases in drought situations where cattle in search of grazing are herded along road reserves which are often used as bush toilets by passing motorists.
“Deworming workers on the farm or facilities where livestock is handled can make a big difference. There is no known drug that can cure beef measles; therefore avoiding infection in the first place deworming humans are the only viable control options says Dr. Maseke.
From a public health and animal health perspective, it is very important for farmers to continue to take good care of their animals including regular deworming of all livestock and pets and controlling external parasites such as ticks. Sick animals must be isolated and attended to and when an animal dies it is important to dispose of the carcass so other animals do not come into contact with the carcass in order to prevent contamination or transmission of diseases.
“Eating contaminated beef or accidental self-contamination can be a big danger to humans because humans who normally harbour the adult worms can get cysts in muscle and more dangerously, brain tissue, which leads to disease and even death in severe cases,” Quality Assurance Manager, Marchella Somaes.
It is important for farmers to adhere to the provisions of the Fertilisers, Farm Feeds, Agricultural Remedies and Stock Remedies Act (Act 36 of 1947). Especially in light of cases having been reported of certain farmers using sewerage water instead of clean water to grow Lucerne which is frowned upon from both an animal and public health view adds Somaes.
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 muscle , 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.
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.