What is echinococcus?
Echinococcus is an infection caused by a parasitic tapeworm
from the Echinococcus genus. A few different types of tapeworms can cause echinococcus in
humans, including: E. granulosus, E. multilocularis, and E. vogeli. In some cases, the organs
affected depend on which type of tapeworm has caused your infection.
The infection is rare in the United States. It occurs more
often in the Mediterranean, Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia. If left untreated,
it can be fatal. With treatment, your outlook may be good.
What are the symptoms of echinococcus?
Your symptoms will vary depending on which organs are
affected. According to Stanford University:
The infection affects the liver in about 75 percent of
people who contract it. Symptoms may include pain in your abdomen and the
formation of cysts on your liver.
The infection affects the lungs in about 22 percent of
people who contract it. Respiratory symptoms may include chest pain and
coughing up bloody mucus.
Other areas of your body can also be affected, including
your skin, spleen, or kidneys.
What causes echinococcus?
If a parasitic tapeworm infects you, echinococcus will
develop. The parasite enters a host, which is usually an animal, such as a dog,
sheep, or goat. The worm lives in the bowels of the animal and releases its eggs
into the animal’s feces.
You’re most likely to contract the infection when you eat
food that has been contaminated with animal feces. After eating contaminated
food, the incubation period is usually a few months long.
This means it takes a few months before symptoms appear.
Certain strains of the parasite can have a longer incubation period that may
last up to a few years.
Who is at risk of echinococcus?
One risk factor for contracting the parasite is exposure to
the feces of dogs, cattle, pigs, or sheep. For example, if you work on a farm
with these animals, you may be at higher risk.
Cases of the infection have been reported in the United
States, but the risk is higher in countries where the parasite is more common.
factor is taking in food or water contaminated with the tapeworm eggs.
is echinococcus diagnosed?
Your doctor may ask you about your symptoms and perform medical
tests to diagnose your infection. For example, they may use a chest X-ray to rule
out other types of infection. Your doctor may also use an abdominal MRI or CT
scan to make their diagnosis.
Because the incubation period can be long, echinococcus parasites
may be discovered while your doctor is performing medical tests for other
How is echinococcus treated?
Certain medications can destroy the parasite. In some cases,
your doctor may also recommend surgery. Your specific treatment plan will depend
on the severity of your symptoms, as well as the organs affected.
Medication is almost always used to treat
echinococcus. For example, your doctor may prescribe mebendazole
They may also recommend taking anti-inflammatory medication
to treat inflammation of your organs caused by the parasite. Sometimes chemotherapy
medications can be used to treat organ cysts caused by the parasite.
In some instances, your doctor may recommend surgery to treat
cysts caused by the infection. If the infection has affected your brain and
fluid has accumulated there, your doctor may also recommend surgery to install
a shunt. This device is used to drain fluid from your brain.
What is the outlook for echinococcus?
Your outlook depends on the extent of your infection and the
organs affected. In some instances, cysts may rupture, which can be life
threatening. But if your doctor is able to effectively treat the cysts, your
outlook may be good.
How is echinococcus prevented?
There are several different steps you can take to prevent an
echinococcus infection. In areas of the world where the parasite is common,
education can help.
Removing the worms from dogs can help stop the spread of
infection. Correct disposal of animal feces can reduce exposure to tapeworm
Proper handling of cattle at farms and slaughterhouses is also
essential. This includes enforcing meat inspection procedures. Avoiding
undercooked or raw beef, pork, and fish can also help you avoid echinococcus.
Washing fruits and vegetables, especially in areas where the
tapeworm is common, may help prevent infection.