Echinococcus granulosus, the cause of hydatid disease/hydatosis in people, is on the rise in the Bashkiria (Bashkortostan) region of Russia. Fifty-three cases were identified in Bashkiria in 2008, 1.7 times the number of cases reported the year before. Over 500 cases of human infection with Echinococcus are reported in Russia annually.

The original article (translated from Russian) states that the people at risk are those in contact with cattle and other domestic animals. Echinococcus actually causes the same type of disease in cattle and livestock as it does in people – it forms slow-growing cysts in the lungs, liver or other tissues. When the cysts are small they usually don’t cause a problem, but eventually (sometimes even years later) they can grow to a size that interferes with normal organ and body functions. However, people do NOT become infected by contact with cattle, sheep or other intermediate hosts. The infection can only be spread to humans (and livestock) by the definitive host – dogs, including domestic dogs and wild canids. In dogs, the parasite lives in the intestine in the form of a tiny adult tapeworm, and the tapeworm eggs are shed in the dog’s stool. When the eggs are swallowed by an intermediate host, the immature form of the parasite penetrates the intestinal wall and migrates through the body tissues to the site where it ultimately forms a hydatid cyst. If the animal dies or is killed, and the cyst is eaten by a dog, then the cycle begins again.

The most probably reason for the increased number of human infections in this case is an increase in the number of dogs in the same area, particularly those used for herding sheep. This may be equivalent to the dog-reindeer cycle present in Siberia.  Echinococcus infection in dogs can be treated with common deworming agents that kill other tapeworms, but it is likely that dogs in these areas are not dewormed as often as they should be to prevent this disease.

The article reiterates some sound recommendations for decreasing the risk of Echinococcus infection. These may sound familiar, because many of them also help decrease the risk of transmission of infectious diseases in general:

  • Wash your hands after contact with animals.
  • Wash your hands after working in orchards where cattle have wandered (not the most widely applicable recommendation for people living in North America, but is along the same lines as our recommendation to wash your hands after working outside, particularly with soil).
  • Do not consume unwashed greens or vegetables (all fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed with potable water before being processed or eaten).
  • Do not drink water from untreated sources.

More information about Echinococcus and other tapeworms is available in the Worms & Germs Archives.

Photo: Central Asian Shepherd Dog (Sredneaziatskaya Ovcharka), click here for source (Wikipedia).