|Human alveolar echinococcosis (AE), caused by the metacestode stage of Echinococcus multilocularis, is a serious zoonosis which caused up to 100% lethality in untreated patients before the 1970s, when modern methods of treatment were not yet established.
AE occurs in large areas of the northern hemisphere mostly with low country-wide prevalences, but high prevalences of up to 4% have been reported from small population groups in highly endemic foci, e.g. from China.
AE includes many veterinary aspects which are the topic of this review.
Recent studies have shown that E. multilocularis has a wider geographic range than previously anticipated. There is evidence for growing populations of red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) in some areas, for increasing invasion of cities by foxes and also for establishment of the parasite cycle in urban areas. These and other factors may lead to an increased infection risk for humans.
Significant progress has been made in the development of sensitive and specific new techniques for the intra vitam and post mortem diagnosis of intestinal E. multilocularis infection in definitive hosts, notably the detection of coproantigen by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and of copro-DNA by PCR.
Both tests can also be used for the identification of E. multilocularis in faecal samples collected in the environment.
Recommendations are given for chemotherapy and chemoprophylaxis of the intestinal infection in definitive hosts.
In recent years, infections with the metacestode stage of E. multilocularis have not only been diagnosed in humans in several regions, including at least eight countries in central Europe, but also in animal species which do not play a role in the transmission cycle (wild and domestic pigs, dogs etc.).
From 1987 to 2000 our group in Zurich has diagnosed 10 cases of AE in dogs and 15 in captive monkeys. In 2 dogs, concurrent infections of the intestine and of the liver with adult and larval stages of E. multilocularis, respectively, were observed for the first time. Clinical data are presented, and methods of diagnosis and treatment (surgery, chemotherapy) are described. Furthermore, small liver lesions
caused by E. multilocularis were diagnosed in 10% of 90 slaughter pigs, and 2.9% of 522 breeding sows had specific serum antibodies against parasite antigens.
In view of the unpredictable epidemiological situation, all possible measures for preventing E. multilocularis infections in humans and in domestic animals should be initiated by the veterinary and health authorities.
Source: P. Deplazes, J. Eckert (2001): Veterinary aspects of alveolar echinococcosis a zoonosis of public health significance. In: Veterinary Parasitology, Vol. 98 (1-3) (2001) pp. 65-87
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