Echinococcus multilocularis Newsletter
Echinococcus multilocularis (E.m.) is a tiny tapeworm that commonly lives in the intestines of coyotes and foxes, but also occasionally in dogs and cats. Although established in Europe and parts of Asia, it was once thought that this tapeworm was rare in North America. Recent studies in populations of coyotes and foxes in Alberta indicate that the number of infected animals is actually quite high (around 25%).
Some of these studies were conducted at off leash dog parks in Calgary. As coyote and fox populations have moved into urban areas, dogs and cats are having more and more contact with potential sources of infection. This tapeworm has recently emerged in Alberta, causing four cases of human infection in the last four years.
Foxes and coyotes (as well as dogs and cats) can contract this parasite by eating rodents infected with E.m. larva. The ingested larve transform to an adult in the intestines and start to produce eggs within 2 months. The eggs are shed in the feces, contaminating the surrounding vegetation. Rodents eat the vegetation or the feces and the life cycle continues. Dogs become infected by eating contaminated feces, rodents or vegetation. The eggs in the environment can last for months or even years, even if frozen. Most disinfectants will not kill them.
Humans can come into contact with this parasite through exposure to microscopic particles of feces on pet fur. Another source is eating fruits or vegetables that are contaminated with infected feces. Echinococcus infections in humans can invade the liver and spread through the body like a tumor. Children or young adults are more likely to become infected. This disease can be fatal in humans if not diagnosed and treated early.
To reduce the transmission to humans, it is important to prevent Echinococcus infection in our pets. Keeping cats indoors and dogs away from areas frequented by wildlife will reduce their risk of infection. Any dogs and cats that live an at-risk lifestyle should be dewormed regularly with a product that acts against Echinococcus tapeworms. Most routine flea, tick and heartworm dewormers are not effective against Echinococcus.
Please discuss your pet’s lifestyle with one of our veterinarians. Together we can create a deworming schedule for your pet and reduce the risk of infection.
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