The researchers also plan to distribute medication in schools to counter the tapeworms and administer vaccines and anti-parasitic medications to pigs in the region. One such drug is particularly promising, according to co-author Stephen Felt, DVM, MPH, associate professor of comparative medicine. The drug, oxfendazole, not only kills muscle-encysted larvae in pigs, but protects them from reinfection for up to three months. Felt cautioned that oxfendazole may lead to unsightly scarring of the meat, which might turn off consumers. A vaccine called Cysvax also appears to be highly effective, but it requires booster doses — a significant drawback. Combining Cysvax and oxfendazole might be the most effective approach, according to Felt.
In schools, Openshaw and his colleagues are working to install working hand-washing stations near bathrooms, develop cost-effective ways of supplying soap, provide curriculum materials about the disease and hand-washing, and integrate good hand hygiene into school-based reward systems.
The researchers have forthcoming work that measures cognitive deficiencies in the children, and better defines social links — likely transmission pathways — among them.
“The tools to eradicate this disease are available,” Openshaw said. “We hope that as the true burden of this disease on children becomes clearer, governments and nongovernmental actors will commit more resources.”
Openshaw is also a faculty fellow at Stanford’s Center for Innovation in Global Health.
Other Stanford co-authors are Alexis Medina, project manager for health and nutrition at Stanford’s Rural Education Action Program; and Scott Rozelle, PhD, the Helen C. Farnsworth Professor in International Agricultural Policy and a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
Researchers from Sichuan Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Sichuan University also contributed to the study, which was funded by Stanford’s Global Development and Poverty Initiative, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
Stanford’s Department of Medicine also supported the research.