Alveolar echinococcosis (AE) disease results from being infected with the larval stage of Echinococcus multilocularis, a microscopic tapeworm (1-4 millimeters) found in foxes, coyotes, dogs, and cats. Although human cases are rare, infection in humans causes parasitic tumors to form in the liver, and, less commonly, the lungs, brain, and other organs. It is also still a serious disease that not only has a significantly high fatality rate but also has the potential to become an emerging disease in many countries. If left untreated, infection with AE can be fatal.
AE is caused by tumor-like or cyst-like tapeworm larvae growing in the body. AE usually involves the liver, but can spread to other organs of the body. Because the cysts are slow-growing, infection with AE may not produce any symptoms for many years.
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal discomfort
- Weight loss
- Abdominal mass
- Respiratory symptoms
- Liver disease
- Biliary obstruction
- Don't touch a fox, coyote, or other wild canine, dead or alive, unless you are wearing gloves. Hunters and trappers should use plastic gloves to avoid exposure.
- Don't keep wild animals, especially wild canines, as pets or encourage them to come close to your home.
- Don't allow your cats and dogs to wander freely or to capture and eat rodents.
- If you think that your pet may have eaten rodents, consult your veterinarian about the possible need for preventive treatments.
- After handling pets, always wash your hands with soap and warm water.
- Fence in gardens to keep out wild animals.
- Do not collect or eat wild fruits or vegetables picked directly from the ground. All wild-picked foods should be washed carefully or cooked before eating.
Surgery is the most common form of treatment for AE, although removal of the entire parasite mass is not always possible. After surgery, medication may be necessary to keep the cyst from growing back.