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Treating tapeworm infection could improve academic performance

"Schools appear to be hotbeds of transmission, as well as places for potentially effective intervention," Openshaw said.Community education will be key to pushing down infections – a third of parents who responded to a survey believed intestinal worms have no adverse effects, and 19 percent thought less activity and drinking hot water or eating spicy food would help.

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, an 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  on children becomes clearer, governments and nongovernmental actors will commit more resources."

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