November 14, 2018

Hydatid Cysts in Elk and Unexplained Worms

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The information for this article came to me from various sources of emails. In an email sent to Idaho for Wildlife, pictures of hydatid cysts infecting a recently harvested elk and a brief story are shared.

“Greeting Steve, my name is XXXXX XXXXX[Feb. 3, 2014 – name was removed per request of the person.]. I live in Cascade, Idaho. I saw the flyer on the hytadid elk disease on a flyer at a store in Donnelly, Idaho.

The attached pics are from a cow elk my wife shot last week a few miles north of Donnelly in Valley County. Lesions look the same. The entire elk was infested with tiny white worms. Every part of it. They were entirely thoughout all the meat. If you look in the pics closely the worms are kinda straight but wiggly shaped. I had a IDFG Officer inspect it. He got on the phone with the biologists at headquarters in Caldwell and they requested a sample and condemned the elk. They requested I bury it which I did. I looked over your groups website and thought I should forward this to you. Call me if you would like to discuss.”

XXXXX XXXXXX[Feb. 3, 2014, Name was removed per request of the person.]

All photos can be enlarged to full size for more precise viewing. Just click on the image and then click again on the following page.

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The following is information sent to me by Lynn Stuter pertaining to the photos above.

“Like many of you, I received the following e-mail,

The attached pics are from a cow elk my wife shot last week a few miles north of Donnelly in Valley County. Lesions look the same. The entire elk was infested with tiny white worms. Every part of it. They were entirely thoughout all the meat. If you look in the pics closely the worms are kinda straight but wiggly shaped. I had a IDFG Officer inspect it. He got on the phone with the biologists at headquarters in Caldwell and they requested a sample and condemned the elk. They requested I bury it which I did. I looked over your groups website and thought I should forward this to you. Call me if you would like to discuss.

For those who don’t have ready access to a map, Donnelly is a ways south of McCall in Idaho. In looking at the attached pictures, at least some of the cysts, in the lungs, appear to be Hydatid cysts, ungulates being the intermediate host to the Echinococcus granulosus tapeworm.

I sent the pictures to Dr Valerius Geist. In part he responded, “please spread the word to open suspicious cysts, cut it with your knife, to expose the hydatid sand.” The “Hydatid sand” Dr Geist speaks of is the tapeworm heads that look like sand in the fluid that exists inside the cyst. If the cyst is full of tapeworm heads, you know the animal had Hydatid.

While some may fear contracting Hydatid by doing this, know that the tapeworm heads must be ingested by a canine (wolf, coyote, dog) to become adult tapeworms capable of producing eggs. The tapeworm heads are not a threat to humans, only the eggs of the Echinococcus granulosus tapeworm that causes Hydatid are a threat to humans. If ingested by a human, the eggs hatch in the intestines, burrow through the intestinal wall, enter the vascular system, and usually travel to the liver or lungs, where Hydatid cysts are formed.

Of course, if gutting an infected animal at the residence, be sure to secure and remove the guts (offal) so the family dog does not get into them, ingest the tapeworm heads, and become infected with the Echinococcus granulosus tapeworm, thereby spreading the eggs in its feces around and in the home, eggs that are a threat to humans and especially to small children who play in the grass and on the floor in the home.

The worms in the meat of this elk would not be Echinococcus granulosus as the tapeworm heads, found in the Hydatid cyst, must be ingested by a canine (wolf, coyote, dog) to develop into mature tapeworms. If a cyst is ruptured, inside the host animal, the result is most often anaphylactic shock followed by death. This is also true with humans. There is always an exception to the rule, however. If a cyst is ruptured, and the host does not go into anaphylactic shock and die, the tapeworm heads do not infect the meat and become mature tapeworms; the tapeworm heads that survive form new cysts inside the host.

What the worms are, in the meat of this elk, is yet to be determined.”

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