Note Number: AG0803
Published: February 2002
Updated: April 2009
Beef measles (Cysticercus bovis) are small cysts found in muscles of cattle. These cysts are a stage in the lifecycle of a tapeworm of man (Taenia saginata) which grows to 4-10 metres in length. This Agriculture Note describes sources of infection, detection of measles in cattle and effective control measures for beef measles.
What are beef measles?
Beef measles are small pea-sized fluid-filled cysts that contain a small immature tapeworm (Figure 1). They are mainly found in the muscles of the jaw, tongue, heart and diaphragm of cattle. They are less commonly found in other muscles of the animal.
How do humans become infected?
Humans become infected by eating raw or undercooked meat containing a cyst. Once swallowed the immature tapeworm in the cyst is liberated and attaches itself to the small intestinal wall. It develops into an adult tapeworm in 2-3 months and can survive for 25 years or longer.
The tapeworm consists of many segments joined together. Human faeces can contain 8 or 9 segments each containing thousands of eggs.
Risk to human health
Usually humans with tapeworm infections show no ill effects and only become aware of the problem when tapeworm segments are passed in the toilet.
The tapeworm is not transmitted from person to person. If you are at all concerned about infection with this tapeworm then consult your local doctor.
Modern drugs are very effective in eliminating the parasite.
How do cattle pick up infection?
Cattle become infected by grazing pasture contaminated with human faeces. Once the tapeworm eggs are eaten by cattle the immature tapeworm is released and burrows through the intestinal wall, reaches the blood stream and migrates to a muscle in the animal (Figure 2). A cyst develops in about 3 months, which is the Beef Measle.
The cyst in cattle usually dies about 4-6 months after the animal is infected leaving a small calcified lump.
The lifecycle is completed when humans eat undercooked or raw beef containing a viable tapeworm cyst (Figure 3).
Infection with Beef Measles has no observable effect on the health of cattle.
Sources of infection in cattle
Previously it was thought that Beef Measles were confined to cattle infected while grazing sewage farms, but in recent years it has been found to be much more widely distributed.
Other sources of Beef Measle infections of cattle are:
- Paddocks that have been contaminated with septic tank drainage.
- Properties that have neighbouring camp-sites, or properties frequented by people including itinerant workers, where human faeces have not been properly disposed of.
Detection of beef measles in abattoirs
Routine meat inspection in abattoirs enables Beef Measles cases to be detected. Cattle from sewage farms undergo stringent inspection at the abattoir.
Once detected, the cattle National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) details are used to trace the property of origin.
The owner is then contacted by the Department of Primary Industries Animal Health Staff and advised on the nature and control of Beef Measles.
Infected carcases detected at abattoirs are frozen at no warmer than -12C deep muscle temperature for not less than 10 days in carcases and 20 days in boned meat. Heavily infected carcases are condemned.
Effective control measures
1. Reduce cattle pick up of tapeworm eggs:
- Prevent cattle grazing paddocks contaminated with sewage; eg. septic tank drainage areas.
- Effective sanitary toilet habits when out-doors; eg. campsites.
2. Prevent human ingestion of infective cysts:
- Home grown beef for your own consumption should be killed at an abattoir to ensure appropriate Meat Inspection occurs.
- Cook beef at 56C for more than 5 minutes until the meat is uniformly grey.
This Agnote was developed by Gordon Nash , Farm Services Victoria, February 2002.
It was reviewed by Gordon Nash, Farm Services Victoria April 2009
Published and Authorised by:
Department of Environment and Primary Industries
1 Spring Street
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