Tape­worm could jump to hu­mans, vet warns

Regina Leader-Post - - CITY + REGION - AN­DREA HILL ahill@postmedia.com

SASKA­TOON A Saska­toon ve­teri­nar­ian says “there’s a very good chance” Saskatchewan could see hu­man cases of a po­ten­tially lethal tape­worm in the fore­see­able fu­ture.

Echinococ­cus mul­ti­loc­u­laris is a tape­worm less than four mil­lime­tres long. Its life cy­cle be­gins when small ro­dents, such as mice and voles, eat its eggs, which then form cysts on their liver, lungs, brain and other or­gans. When dogs or cats eat in­fected ro­dents, lar­vae within the cysts de­velop into adult tape­worms. Dogs and cats re­lease tape­worm eggs in their ex­cre­ment, which can be eaten by ro­dents to restart the tape­worm’s life cy­cle.

Hu­mans can in­ad­ver­tently con­sume tape­worm eggs if they han­dle the ex­cre­ment of in­fected dogs and then touch their own food, or if they eat things — such as berries, mush­rooms or herbs — that are con­tam­i­nated by in­fected dog or cat drop­pings.

If that hap­pens, tape­worm cysts can spread to the person’s liver and other or­gans like a tu­mour.

Emily Jenkins, a pro­fes­sor of vet­eri­nary par­a­sitol­ogy and pub­lic health at the Uni­ver­sity of Saskatchewan, said un­less the dis­ease is iden­ti­fied and treated quickly, the mor­tal­ity rate is be­tween 50 per cent and 75 per cent. Treat­ment in­volves surgery to re­move the cysts and years of drug ther­apy.

“When you do get it, it’s re­ally se­ri­ous,” Jenkins said.

“We need peo­ple to have this on their radar. When they look at some­thing that looks like a liver tu­mour, in the back of their minds they need to think, ‘Or it could be this weirdo tape­worm,’ be­cause the drugs that you would use to man­age a liver cancer are not the ones you need to be us­ing for the tape­worm.”

“We know the par­a­site’s here; there’s a very good chance we’re go­ing to start see­ing hu­man cases in Saskatchewan,” Jenkins said.

E. mul­ti­loc­u­laris is more com­mon in Asia and Europe than in North Amer­ica, but she said re­search she has done since 2009 sug­gests that about one-quar­ter of coy­otes, foxes and wolves in North Amer­ica are in­fected by the tape­worm.

Jenkins said it’s hard to know how quickly the par­a­site is spread­ing. There’s no for­mal sur­veil­lance in place for the tape­worm and symp­toms in hu­mans can take more than five years to de­velop. Jenkins said the risk for hu­man in­fec­tion in­creases if their four­legged com­pan­ions go to dog parks. She rec­om­mends dog own­ers wash their hands thor­oughly af­ter scoop­ing poop, keep dogs on­leash and away from wild dog and ro­dent drop­pings, and de­worm high-risk pets ev­ery month.

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