Disease due to the tapeworm Taenia solium occurs in two forms: taeniasis and cysticercosis.
Taeniasis is the intestinal infection with adult tapeworms. It is a mild disease, but of significant public health importance as it plays a crucial role in the transmission of cysticercosis, a serious disease.
Cysticercosis is the infection with the larval stages (cysticerci) of the tapeworm. Inside the body, cysticerci can develop in a number of tissues; those that are located in the central nervous system cause neurocysticercosis, the most severe form of the disease.
Neurocysticercosis is considered to be a common infection of the central nervous system and is the most frequent preventable cause of epilepsy in the developing world.
More than 80% of the world’s 50 million people who are affected by epilepsy live in developing countries, many of which are endemic for T. solium infections in people and pigs.
Cysticercosis mainly affects the health and livelihoods of subsistence farmers in developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. In fact, besides leading to epilepsy and death in humans, cysticercosis also reduces the market value of pigs and makes pork unsafe to eat.
Although theoretically amenable to control and declared eradicable by the International Task Force for Disease Eradication in 1993, T. solium cysticercosis remains a neglected disease. This is mainly because of a lack of information about its burden and transmission, the lack of diagnostic tools available for use in the field, and the lack of validation of simple intervention packages used as part of integrated helminth control strategies.