Definition

What is liver fluke infection?

liver flukes are parasitic worms called trematodes. Infections typically occur from eating infected raw or undercooked freshwater fish or watercress. After ingestion, liver flukes travel from the intestine to the bile ducts of the liver where they mature and live. Infection with this parasite occurs through eating fluke-infested, fresh-water raw or undercooked fish.

The life cycle of flukes is complex. People get liver fluke infections when they swallow cysts containing immature flukes (larvae) in raw, undercooked, dried, salted, or pickled freshwater fish or in watercress contaminated by sheep or cattle dung.

How common is liver fluke infection?

Liver fluke infection is extremely common. It commonly affects more females than males. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of liver fluke infection?

Usually, these fluke infections cause no symptoms. But if the infection is severe, people may have a fever, chills, and abdominal pain. If flukes block enough of the bile passages inside or outside the liver, people may develop yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice), itching, diarrhea, and weight loss. Sometimes the flukes damage the liver, causing fibrosis or cirrhosis.

Years later, infected people may develop gallstones, pancreatitis, or cancer of the biliary ducts.

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 liver fluke infection?

People are infected accidentally through consuming certain raw freshwater plants. A type of liver fluke can however be acquired through eating the raw livers of sheep, goat or cattle. Since this practice is rare, the main mode of transmission is through consuming plants like watercress, water lettuce, mint and parsley.

The flukes get into the small bile ducts inside the liver and the gallbladder where they live for 20-30 years. The flukes cause chronic inflammation of the bile ducts causing scarring (fibrosis) of the bile ducts and bile duct dilatation. A liver fluke is a type of flat worm. One adult fluke lays 2000-4000 eggs each day and the eggs are excreted through the bile ducts and feces of the infected person. The cycle recirculates via eating of raw fresh-water fish.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for liver fluke infection?

There are many risk factors for liver fluke infection, such as:

  • Have a history of eating raw, freshwater fish in endemic areas
  • Have travelled to these parts of the world and eaten raw or under cooked fresh water fish should be tested
  • Live in the endemic region, including South-East Asia, South Korea, Taiwan, Northern Vietnam, Laos and Northeast Thailand, Eastern Europe Eastern Russia, Manchuria, Northern Siberia and China
  • Live along rivers

Diagnosis & Treatment

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

 

How is liver fluke infection diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose liver fluke infections when they see eggs in a person’s stool (feces) or in the contents of the person’s intestines.

People should be told to have regular periodic stool tests to check for the presence of eggs in the stool.

The typical appearance of past/healed liver fluke infection is widespread dilatation of the bile ducts inside the liver without evidence of an obstructing cause (dilatation without obstruction); this is seen on ultrasound, CAT or MRI scans of the liver. This picture is frequently found in healthy looking but infected people in endemic areas.

If liver fluke is left undetected for years, this can become a very serious disease and cause destruction of the liver. Most people with liver fluke infection are completely unaware because they experience no symptoms at all. A small percentage of patients experience fatigue and non-specific abdominal discomfort, which easily gets mistaken for indigestion or irritable bowel syndrome. So it is important to have a high awareness of this insidious and destructive liver disease.

How is liver fluke infection treated?

Tablets are prescribed to kill the worms and these drugs are known as antihelmintic medications. If the disease is detected too late, sometimes the damage caused by the flukes is so extensive that a badly damaged part of the liver must be surgically removed. The sooner the infection is detected and eradicated, the less harm it is able to do to the bile ducts and the liver.

  • Triclabendazole is the drug of choice for treating liver flukes.
  • Corticosteroids (short course) may be prescribed for acute phases with severe symptoms.
  • Surgery may be necessary for complications like cholangitis

Lifestyle changes & Home remedies

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

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with liver fluke infection:

  • Avoid eating raw liver from sheep, goats and cattle.
  • Ensure that water used for drinking and preparing food is clean.
  • Do not eat raw ground fruit and vegetables grown near grazing pastures.
  • Cook fresh water plants like watercress before eating.
  • Fresh water plants that are being eaten raw should be soaked in a 6% acetic acid solution for 5 to 10 minutes.

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: April 23, 2017 | Last Modified: April 23, 2017

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