Parasitic Infection Plagues States Along Mexico Border

Joyce Howard Price, Washington Times, Feb. 8, 2007

Federal researchers say neurocysticercosis, a brain infection caused by a pork tapeworm, is a “growing public health problem in the United States,” especially in states bordering Mexico, where the disease is endemic.

Neurocysticercosis is the “most common parasitic disease of the central nervous system,” according to a study jointly conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and California public health officials, who reported that “international travel and immigration are bringing the disorder to areas where it is not endemic,” such as this country.

“Neurocysticercosis is the primary cause of epilepsy in endemic areas. This brain worm is very serious,” Victor C. Tsang, chief of the immunochemistry laboratory in the Parasitic Disease Division of the CDC said in a telephone interview.

“Oral-fecal contamination is the standard route of transmission,” he said of the condition.

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A separate report in this month’s issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases found that nearly 60 percent of the 221 U.S. deaths from cysticercosis between 1990 and 2002 involved California residents.

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“In Hispanics and Latinos, neurocysticercosis accounts for 13.5 percent of [U.S.] emergency-room visits for seizures,” federal and California investigators wrote in their report in Acta Neurologica Scandinavica published late last year. “The growth is mainly due to immigration from endemic developing countries,” they reported.

“So if you have people cooking for you or handling your food who are tapeworm carriers and don’t have good personal hygiene, you will be exposed to the eggs of the tapeworm” and become infected by swallowing food they touch, Mr. Tsang explained.

Carriers tend to be people from rural developing countries with poor hygiene, where pigs are allowed to roam freely and eat human feces. Mr. Tsang said the condition is rife in Mexico and other parts of Latin America and Central America and “in a large part of China and Africa.”

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[Web Site Editor’s Note: “Neurocysticercosis in Radiographically Imaged Seizure Patients in U.S. Emergency Departments,” the main report discussed in this article, is available on-line at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol8no6/01-0377.htm.

“Deaths from Cysticercosis, United States,” published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, is on-line at at http://www.cdc.gov/eid/content/13/2/230.htm.

A fact sheet on cysticerosis may be found here.]

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