Best practices against beef measles

Taking in cardboard or waste, and drinking contaminated water, can lead to measles in cattle.

11 September 2019 | Agriculture

Beef measles (Cysticercus bovis) is a cause for concern in the livestock industry as it causes losses in foreign markets, such as the European Union, which do not accept infected meat. The disease is a serious food safety concern and could have huge economic effects on the industry.

According to Meatco, beef measles causes fluid-filled cysts that contain small, immature tapeworms the size of a small pea. The cysts occur mainly in the very active muscles of the jaw, tongue, heart, shoulder and diaphragm of cattle and are rarely found elsewhere.

There are no visible signs of the disease and it can only be detected after slaughter when the meat is inspected. The result is that the meat cannot be sold into the local or foreign 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, says Meatco.

According to Meatco's senior manager of quality assurance, Dr Adrianatus Maseke, some causes of measles are as mundane as letting cattle come into contact with old car batteries not disposed of properly, consuming waste/sewerage water or even consuming cardboard.

“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,” says Maseke.

From a public and animal health perspective, it is very important for farmers to continue taking good care of their animals. When an animal dies, it is important to dispose of the carcass so that other animals do not come into contact with it, to prevent any contamination or transmission.

It is important for farmers to adhere to the provisions of the Fertilisers, Farm Feeds, Agricultural Remedies and Stock Remedies Act, especially in light of reports that some farmers are using sewerage water, instead of clean water, to grow lucerne, which is frowned upon from both an animal and public health point of view.

Beef measles appears as small white cysts which can be seen in the animal's muscles at slaughter. These cysts are usually found during a post-mortem inspection, where multiple incisions are made on the predilection sites of the jaw, tongue, heart, diaphragm and shoulder muscles. According to Meatco 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 effective, even with regular use.

It is therefore important to prevent infection, since the condition does not exhibit clinical signs.

Meatco says there are several actions producers can take to reduce or eliminate the risk of measles in cattle.

These include avoiding faecal contamination of cattle feed and grazing areas. Farmworkers and visitors should also practice good hygiene and access by cattle to pastures infected with human waste should be avoided.

Producers should further sell their cattle to an abattoir where competent meat inspection is practised so that infected carcasses can be detected before the meat 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,” says Meatco.


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