Echinococcus is an infection caused by the Echinococcus granulosus or Echinococcus multilocularis tapeworm. The infection is also called hydatid disease.
Causes of Echinococcus
Echinococcus is common in:
- Central Asia
- Southern South America
- The Mediterranean
- The Middle East
In the United States, the disease is very rare. But it has been reported in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.
Humans become infected when they swallow eggs in contaminated food. The infection is carried to the liver, where cysts form. Cysts can also form in the:
- Skeletal muscles
Risk factors include being exposed to:
- Feces of dogs, wolves, or coyotes
A liver cyst may produce no symptoms for 10 to 20 years, until it is large enough to be felt by physical examination.
- Pain in the upper right part of the abdomen
- Bloody sputum
- Chest pain
- Severe skin itching
Tests and Exams
A physical examination may show signs of:
- Abdominal pain
- Problems with the skin and other organs
The following tests may be done to find the cysts:
- Abdominal CT scan or ultrasound
- Abdominal X-ray
- Blood test
- Chest x-ray
- Liver function tests
- Thoracic CT scan or ultrasound
Most often, echinococcosis is found when an imaging test is done for another reason.
Treatment of Echinococcus
Many patients can be treated with anti-worm medicines.
The cysts may be removed with surgery, if possible. But this can be a complicated surgery.
If the cysts respond to oral medication, the likely outcome is good.
The cysts may break open (rupture) and cause severe illness, including:
- Low blood pressure
The cysts may also spread throughout the body.
When to Contact a Health Professional
Call your health care provider if you develop symptoms of this disorder.
Prevention of Echinococcus
In areas where the disease is known to occur, health education and routinely removing tapeworms from dogs can help prevent the disease.
King CH, Fairley JK. Cestodes (tapeworms). In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 29.
|Review Date: 8/30/2014
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.