KENYA – A recent study conducted by scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in collaboration with the University of Nairobi and the University of Liverpool has unveiled the health risks posed by unprocessed pork in Kiambu County, putting about one million people in and around Nairobi at potential risk of contracting a harmful parasite.

Published in the journal MDPI, the study indicates that for every 100 pigs sampled, approximately 34 were found to carry the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, known as T. gondii. This parasitic infection is particularly hazardous, with severe consequences for individuals with weakened immune systems and expectant mothers.

The study highlights that small farm sizes and increased live weight are significant risk factors for T. gondii infection in pigs. Nairobi residents are at risk if they consume raw or undercooked pork, as pigs serve as intermediate hosts for the parasite.

While individuals with robust immune systems may not exhibit severe symptoms, those with weakened immune systems, such as HIV/AIDS patients, cancer patients, diabetics, pregnant women, the elderly, and young children, face serious health complications. Possible consequences include encephalitis, ocular abnormalities, mental disorders, and secondary respiratory infections.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that many individuals infected with toxoplasmosis may not show symptoms, while some may experience flu-like symptoms.

The study underscores various pathways for the parasite to enter pigs, including the pig’s environment, water, and feed. Exposure increases with the duration of time animals spend in the farm environment, heightening contact with infective oocysts.

While larger herd sizes are associated with a decreased prevalence of T. gondii, proper hygiene, rodent control systems, and a clean water supply with uncontaminated feed contribute to better outcomes.

The study emphasizes the need for further research on on-farm practices and mitigation strategies in Kenya.

Despite the infection risk, the demand for pork in Kenya is on the rise, with an estimated annual consumption of 400 tons or 0.4 kilograms per person, reports Nation.

The study suggests the urgent implementation of mitigation measures, including enhanced on-farm biosecurity and public health education for consumers, especially those in high-risk categories.

A parallel study published in the journal Cell reveals that approximately 3 in 10 people worldwide are affected by T. gondii, with pregnant mothers and unborn babies facing varying risks depending on gestational age.

Moreover, the long-term impact of the parasite may extend to behavioral conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, bipolar disorder, epilepsy, and schizophrenia.

Last year, the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) found high levels of contamination in raw pork and poultry meat sold in leading supermarkets in Kenya. Out of the 393 samples collected from the supermarkets, 98.4% of pork and 96.6% of poultry were contaminated with high levels of bacteria.

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