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57 Vietnamese kindergarteners catch pork tapeworm in unprecedented food safety scandal

Saturday, March 16, 2019, 12:49 GMT+7
57 Vietnamese kindergarteners catch pork tapeworm in unprecedented food safety scandal
A waiting room at the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Hanoi is crowded with parents taking their kids to test for worms. Photo: Dinh Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Dozens of kindergarteners in the northern Vietnamese province of Bac Ninh have tested positive with pork tapeworm in less than a month as their parents blame dirty school meals for the mass infection of unprecedented scale.

The bizarre food safety scandal unraveled last month when cooks at Thanh Khuong Kindergarten in Bac Ninh discovered what appeared to be larvae in pork provided by the school’s food supplier on two separate occasions on February 14 and 20.

After learning of the news, parents of three students took their kids to the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Hanoi to test for worms on March 7.

Two of the three kindergarteners were found to be infected with pork tapeworms, according to a hospital official.

Their parents took to social media to warn others of the infectious disease, leading to a drove of over 300 students at Thanh Khuong Kindergarten being taken to Hanoi for blood and stool tests this week.

Over 170 of them were tested at the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases, while the remaining135 were tested at the National Institute of Malariology, Parasitology and Entomology.

Teachers spoon-feed students at Thanh Khuong Kindergarten in Bac Ninh Province in northern Vietnam in this file photo. Photo: Vietnam News Agency
Teachers spoon-feed students at Thanh Khuong Kindergarten in Bac Ninh Province in northern Vietnam in this file photo. Photo: Vietnam News Agency

It was the largest number of tapeworm tests the hospital had had to carry out in such a short period, said Nguyen Van Kinh, director of the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases, at a press conference on Friday.

As of Friday afternoon, 57 students had tested positive with pork tapeworm infection while 50 more are awaiting results, Kinh said.

It is not immediately clear whether the infected children had caught pork tapeworms from their school meals.

A delegation of officials and experts from the National Institute of Malariology, Parasitology and Entomology will be in Bac Ninh this Sunday to investigate the cause of the mass tapeworm infection.

Nguyen Van Kinh, director of the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Hanoi. Photo: Lan Anh / Tuoi Tre
Nguyen Van Kinh, director of the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Hanoi. Photo: Lan Anh / Tuoi Tre

Human infection of pork tapeworm relies on eating unaudited, undercooked pork or on ingesting faecally contaminated water or food, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Ingested tapeworm eggs develop to larvae in various organs of the human body and can cause neurological symptoms, including epileptic seizures, when they enter the central nervous system, WHO warns.

Pork tapeworm is the cause of 30 percent of epilepsy cases in many endemic areas where people and roaming pigs live in close proximity, according to the same source.

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