BACKGROUND: Neurocysticercosis (NCC) is common among people with epilepsy in low-resource settings. Prevalence of NCC and radiological characteristics of patients with NCC vary considerably even within small areas but differences have been poorly characterized so far.
METHODS: We conducted a cross-sectional study between August 2018 and April 2020 in three district hospitals in southern Tanzania (Ifisi, Tukuyu and Vwawa). Patients with and without epileptic seizures were included in this study. All patients were tested with a novel antibody-detecting point-of-care test for the diagnosis of Taenia solium cysticercosis. All test positives and a subset of test negatives had a further clinical work-up including medical examination and computed tomography of the brain. NCC was defined according to the Del Brutto criteria. We assessed epidemiological, clinical and radiological characteristics of patients with NCC by presence of epileptic seizures and by serology status.
RESULTS: In all three district hospitals, more than 30% of all people with epileptic seizures (PWE) had NCC lesions in their brain (38% in Vwawa, 32% in Tukuyu and 31% in Ifisi). Most PWE with NCC had multiple lesions and mostly parenchymal lesions (at least 85%). If patients were serologically positive, they had in the median more lesions than serologically negative patients (15 [interquartile range 8-29] versus 5 [1.8-11]), and only serologically positive patients had active stage lesions. Furthermore, serologically positive PWE had more lesions than serologically positive people without epileptic seizures (10.5 [7-23]), and more often had active lesions. PWE diagnosed with NCC (n = 53) were older, and more commonly had focal onset seizures (68% versus 44%, p = 0.03) and headache episodes (34% versus 14%, p = 0.06), which were also stronger than in PWE without NCC (p = 0.04).
CONCLUSION: NCC is common among PWE. A combination of clinical and serological factors could help to establish an algorithm to identify patients potentially suffering from active NCC, who benefit from further clinical investigation including neuroimaging.