February 6, 2023

Human Hydatid Disease

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*Editor’s Note* – This article first appeared in the Bethel Citizen.

Open Air
With Tom Remington

Human Hydatid Disease

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) had issued a warning to Maine residents on their website about moose lungworm, as they called it. Unfortunately the information was incomplete and misleading. I have urged the department to do further research in order that better information be made available to educate the public. As of this writing, it appears that information has been removed from the website. The reason is unknown to me.

The result of a three-year study by MDIFW, in conjunction with the University of Maine, has revealed the presence of hydatid cysts in moose at locations in Aroostook County. It is not irresponsible to conclude that if cysts were found there, if not present in deer and moose throughout the entire state now, they soon will be.

The issue of human hydatid disease is complex, however I would like to talk only of the greatest threat to humans in contracting this disease.

Incorrectly, MDIFW, stated that hunters and trappers should wear rubber gloves and be cautious when handling game. While perhaps good advice for any hunter or trapper, this is not where the real threat comes from. It comes from people’s free-roaming dogs and outdoor people who come in contact with worm infested feces of wild canines, i.e. wolves, coyotes, foxes, etc.

Wild canines are the primary host of the tiny worm called echinococcus granulosus. Tiny spores from infected canines can be found in their feces. Should any of these spores be ingested by humans, they run the risk of contracting a disease that is very difficult to diagnose, presents few symptoms and may not show up for several years.

Wild canines leave their “calling card” in very conspicuous places, including often in your front yard. If your dog is allowed to be outside unattended, as dogs naturally tend to do, they eat and/or roll in such feces. If they do this, those tiny spores are now on and around the dogs mouth and/or embedded into the fur, if they have chosen to roll in it.

Use your imagination now as to what can and does happen when your pet reenters the house, especially with children around – licking faces, rolling on floors, sleeping on furniture and beds, depositing tiny eggs where they go waiting for a human to unintentionally ingest them (swallow or inhale into lungs).

In the outdoors, humans stepping in and/or choosing to “examine” the content of canine feces, are running the risk of making airborne the tiny spores and ingesting them. These eggs are viable in water and tremendous temperature ranges.

Hydatid cysts in humans can form in lungs, liver and brain. A rupture of a cyst inside a human body can be fatal.

The most important thing is to learn the truth about this disease in order that we all can do as much as we can to reduce the chances of contracting the disease. If you live in places known to have infected wild canines, do not allow your dogs to run free and then come into the house. If you insist that they run free, for your own protection provide accommodations for your dog to remain outside. Make sure your dog is properly vaccinated. Remember, a vaccination for your pet will help prevent them from becoming sick from the worms but as I described above, them eating and rolling and bringing the eggs inside with them is not affected by their vaccine.

In the wild, do not tamper with wild feces and refrain from drinking from unknown water sources.

Always thoroughly wash hands.

For more information about this disease, please visit my website www.tomremington.com and click on the “wildlife diseases” link near the top of the page.