Definition

What is Echinococcus infection?

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.

E granulosus is an infection caused by tapeworms found in dogs, and livestock such as sheep, pigs, goats, and cattle. These tapeworms are around 2 to 7 mm long. The infection is called cystic echinococcosis (CE). It leads to growth of cysts mainly in the lungs and liver. Cysts can also be found in the heart, bones, and brain.

E multilocularis is the infection caused by tapeworms found in dogs, cats, rodents, and foxes. These tapeworms are around 1 to 4 mm long. The infection is called alveolar echinococcosis (AE). It is a life-threatening condition because tumor-like growths form in the liver. Other organs, such as the lungs and brain can be affected.

How common is Echinococcus infection?

Echinococcus infection occurs more often in the Mediterranean, Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia. Children or young adults are more prone to get the infection. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of Echinococcus infection?

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.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes Echinococcus infection?

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.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for Echinococcus infection?

There are many risk factors for Echinococcus infection, such as:

  • Exposure to the feces of dogs, cattle, pigs, or sheep
  • Food or water contaminated with the tapeworm eggs

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is Echinococcus infection diagnosed?

The health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask about the symptoms.

If the provider suspects an infection, tests that may be done to find the cysts include:

  • X-ray, CT scan, or ultrasound to view the cysts
  • Blood tests, such as enzyme-linked immunoassay (ELISA), liver function tests

Most often, echinococcosis cysts are found when an imaging test is done for another reason.

How is Echinococcus infection 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

Medication is almost always used to treat echinococcus. For example, your doctor may prescribe mebendazole or albendazole.

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.

Surgery

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.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage Echinococcus infection?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you reduce your risk of Echinococcus infection:

  • Removing the worms from dogs can help stop the spread of infection. Correct disposal of animal feces can reduce exposure to tapeworm eggs.
  • 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.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: August 24, 2018 | Last Modified: August 24, 2018

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