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Assam’s tea workers affected by neurocysticercosis (NCC)

  • Category
    Science & Technology
  • Published
    21st Dec, 2021

Context

Neurocysticercosis, triggered by tapeworms has become a challenge for Assam’s tea workers, who are already working in a poor condition.

A study published in the Nature journal earlier this year reported higher prevalence (42.2 per cent) of neurocysticercosis (NCC) among patients with active epilepsy in the tea gardens of Assam.

About

What is neurocysticercosis (NCC)?

  • Neurocysticercosis (NCC) is a preventable disease, which can result in adult-onset epilepsy.
  • It is caused when a human consumes meat from — or is indirectly in contact with — a pig infected with tapeworm. 
  • The eggs of the tapeworm invade the muscles of the human body to make cysts.
  • Sometimes these cysts get into people’s brains, triggering epileptic seizures, headaches, difficulty with balance and excess fluid around the brain.

Assam’s tea workers

  • Assam is the world’s largest tea growing region, with over 800 estates producing half of India’s tea.
  • An estimated 1 million plantation workers workers pick tea on these estates for Rs 205 a day. 
  • A 2019 study by non-profit Oxfam revealed that Assam’s tea workers are one of the state’s most marginalised with unsafe working conditions. They lack basic amenities earn low incomes, at high risk of human rights violations.   
  • To supplement their meager income, many plantation workers — both permanent and temporary — rear pigs. It requires little investment and labor.

Spread of the disease

  • The life cycle of a pork tapeworm (taenia solium) takes it from pigs to humans and vice-versa.
  • Tapeworm eggs are spread through food, water, or surfaces contaminated with faeces. Humans swallow the eggs when they eat contaminated food or put contaminated fingers in their mouth. 
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