Everyone’s talking about the importance of zoonotic disease. And, rightly or wrongly, it’s usually animals that get the blame for passing disease to man. But, despite the many conferences reflecting that buzz-word “One Health”, the real progress in, and commitment to, control of zoonoses is disturbingly limited. Take the case of Porcine Cysticercosis – recognised by the World Health Organisation as an emerging and serious neglected zoonosis. Easy to control if you use a toilet, sadly prevalent across large parts of the world including South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa where sanitation remains a challenge.
Many pigs are infected. Their meat is sold in markets and may well transmit infection to man allowing the tape worm to establish itself. Eggs shed by the adult parasite residing in man can lead to accidental transfer and ingestion of eggs by others in close proximity. These develop and migrate to the brain, often causing epilepsy. Incidence of epilepsy is high in many villages where sanitary conditions are poor and pigs are present.
Control, through improved sanitation and judicious use of wormers, is possible. The work of Professor Lightowlers at the University of Melbourne, working in collaboration with GALVmed and Indian Immunologicals Ltd, offers the hope of a vaccine to break the cycle and control infection in pigs, thereby halting new infections in man. But how do you convince a pig owner to worm and vaccinate? It will cost him money and, since the disease causes no observable effects in his pig, he’ll see no benefit to himself.
It’s a classic case where a new model needs to be explored, combining the knowledge and skills of the veterinarian with those of the medical practitioner. Those skills exist, but now we come back to the challenge of who will pay. Animal health interventions are often based on economic benefit: reduced livestock mortality; improved productivity. Here the benefit to man is significant but indirect; a perfect opportunity for an innovative funding mechanism!
This post was originally written as part of World Veterinary Day focusing on Vector-borne diseases with Zoonotic potential. Vector-borne zoonotic diseases are becoming a major public health concern in fact Scientists estimate that more than 6 out of every 10 infectious diseases in humans are spread from animals. At GALVmed, we work on a number of zoonotic diseases not only to protect livestock from these diseases but humans as well.