Echinococcosis: Signs, Symptoms, Complications, and Prevention

Photo by: Bigstockphoto
Photo by: Bigstockphoto

Echinococcosis is a type of parasitic infection caused by Echinococcus granulosus or Echinococcus multilocular’s tapeworm. These parasitic worms live in livestock feces but are associated with dogs as well. Echinococcus is common in Central Asia, South America, the Middle East, Mediterranean and Africa. Though rare, there were reported cases of Echinococcus infection in the US. Echinococcosis is transmitted by ingestion of contaminated foods. When left untreated, echinococcosis could lead to serious medical complications.

Signs and Symptoms of Echinococcosis

The most common sign of echinococcosis is the development of cysts in major organs, including the brain, the lungs, and the liver. This condition also causes intense itching, bloody sputum, and high fever. Cysts could also form in the kidneys, spleen, bones and muscles. Other symptoms include persistent cough, abdominal and chest pain.

There are cases wherein Echinococcosis was wrongfully diagnosed because it shares the same symptoms as other diseases. If you suspect that you are suffering from echinococcosis, you’ll need to go through various physical and lab exams to get a proper diagnosis.

Causes of Echinococcosis

In humans, contaminated foods are the primary cause of this condition. Tapeworm eggs live in animal feces. Exposure to livestock, dog or cattle feces could also lead to Echinococcosis. The infection will be carried out from the liver and into the rest of the body.

Complications of Echinococcosis

Echinococcosis is relatively easy to treat as long as it’s detected early. But if the condition has been left untreated for so long, it will start damaging major organs, particularly the brain, liver and the lungs. In severe cases, Echinococcosis could lead to anaphylactic reaction, and shock. It could also cause enlargement of the liver or Hepatomegaly, respiratory disease or pulmonary eosinophilia, coin lesion or shadows in the lungs and ectopic calcification or calcified salts within the soft tissues.

Echinococcosis may also lead to haemoptysis or coughing up blood due to an infected lung as well as liver granuloma.

Echinococcosis Treatment and Prevention

There are three ways to treat this condition: medication, surgery or radiation therapy.

Medication

Echinococcosis can be treated using two types of benzimidazolic drugs: mebendazole and albendazole. Mebendazole is an effective treatment against liver cysts. On the other hand, albendazole has to be administered for a prolonged period to eliminate the parasites. These drugs have to be administered for up to three months, depending on the severity of the infection.

Surgery

The cysts can be removed surgically. However, treating echinococcosis via surgery is a long, complicated process. That’s why many doctors do not recommend it unless the situation is dire.

Radiation Therapy

This is an experimental treatment for echinococcosis. Research shows that patients were able to recover from echinococcosis completely after being undergoing radiation therapy. However, health experts say that this treatment should not be perceived as an alternative to surgery in osseous echinococcosis. That’s because surgery makes it possible to extract the cysts, whereas radiation cannot.

To prevent echinococcosis, always treat your dogs with anti-parasitic drugs regularly. Also, avoid exposure to livestock feces and dog feces as much as possible.


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