Echinococcus multilocularis is a tapeworm which, until recently, has not been present in Ontario. The tapeworm’s definitive (i.e. ideal) host is a fox or coyote but, they can also infect domestic dogs. In a recent study from the University of Guelph, researchers found that 1 in 4 wild canids between Windsor and Ottawa were positive for the tapeworm. The adult stage of the tapeworm is not what researchers and veterinarians are most worried about, but rather what occurs when a host consumes the tapeworm’s eggs.
Echinococcus multilocularis’ Life Cycle
The average life cycle of Echinococcus multilocularis starts with an infected host shedding the tapeworm’s eggs into the environment through their feces. The eggs will then be consumed by an intermediate host, such as a small rodent. At this stage, the rodent will begin developing alveolar hydatid cysts (tumor-like cysts on the liver). When a fox, coyote or dog eats the rodent, the adult tapeworm will migrate to the small intestine where it will continue to shed eggs into the environment.
How Does Echinococcus multilocularis Infect Humans?
The problem occurs when humans or dogs accidentally become the intermediate host (By contracting/consuming feces) rather than a rodent. Currently, there is little known about how long it takes the cysts to develop in the feces. Often, when they are discovered, it is too late for effective treatment. Humans with dogs who live in areas where foxes and coyotes are present have an increased risk of becoming infected.
What Can You Do?
If you are concerned that you and/or your dog could come into contact with Echinococcus multilocularis eggs, please contact the clinic and we can discuss your parasite prevention options.
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