December 3, 2022

Maine Moose Study: All Dead Moose Had Echinococcus Cysts in Lungs

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According to a report filed in the Bangor Daily News by outdoor writer George Smith, information not yet officially made public (and I have to wonder if all of the information will be made public) about Maine’s ongoing moose study, while extremely disturbing that the study is showing a terrible moose calf survival rate, it is also showing the presence of Echinococcus granulosus (E.g.) cysts infesting the lungs of all dead moose that were necropsied. “Field necropsies were performed within 48 hours on all moose mortalities. Weights were taken, tick loads were counted, and tissue samples collected for later analysis in the lab. All moose had some level of lung pathology attributed to infestation of adult lungworms (Dictyocaulus spp.) and/or Echinococcus cysts.”

Moose are an intermediate host of the Echinococcus parasite. The definitive hosts are wild canines – more than likely in the case of Maine the species of coyote/wolf cross-bred wild dog, which is also a substantial predator of moose calves and deer.

On February 20, 2013, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) released a presser confirming the presence of E.g. in moose from information gathered from moose testing done by the University of Maine and the MDIFW. At that time, I contacted the commissioner of the MDIFW to get confirmation that the pathological term that biologists chose to use, lungworm, was, in fact, the Echinococcus granulosus worm.

I had also discovered that MDIFW posted information about their discovery on their website. After reading it, I did not think the information given was accurate and did not honestly express concerns in dealing with this infection nor the precautions that should be taken, especially anyone that can come in contact with the spore-like worm that can be deadly to humans.

The response, at that time, that I received back from the commissioner was that they were satisfied with the information they had published and had no intention of amending any of it. However, shortly after my conversations with the commissioner, the web page was taken down and to my knowledge cannot be found.

I do not know how many moose were tested then and what the percentage of moose were infected but the latest information indicates that all dead moose, adult and calf, from this study were infected.

How does this effect the moose’s ability to  survive? E.g. cysts can form in the lung, liver, brain and at some level, in other organs of the animal. Generally, the presence of the cysts is not directly fatal to the moose. Cysts growing in the lungs can seriously affect the breathing capacity of a moose, hindering its ability to escape the threat of predators. Studies have proven that.

Cysts can rupture causing all kinds of complications, even death due to anaphylactic shock.

There is the need for serious concern of humans contracting the worm. I will provide links below where readers can find tons of information about E.g. In the meantime, here’s a brief rundown of the threat to humans from E.g.

The wild canine, which often times can carry and spread up to 50 different diseases, viruses and parasites, is the definitive host of the parasite E.g. Their scat will contain hundreds, maybe even thousands, of tiny spore-like parasites that can actually become airborne. When wild ungulates, such as deer and moose, as well as domestic cattle, pigs and horses, graze near coyote/wolf scat, they risk ingesting some of these parasites. Infection of the disease and the growth of cysts occurs.

The threat to humans comes mostly from people with free-ranging dogs. Dogs will eat scat and roll in it. They return home with the tiny parasites, pretty much invisible to the human eye, and spread the parasites everywhere they go. Consider then your child playing with, being licked by, your dog, or the animal sleeping on furniture or in bed with adults and/or children. Of course there are other ways of becoming infected but almost all come through ingestion of the small spores – usually not intentionally. The spores can survive for long periods of time in water. Drinking water from a brook could be hazardous to your health. Now that we know Maine has this disease, extra precautions need to be taken.

In humans, the disease is called Hydatid disease and is near impossible to diagnose, has few symptoms and removal of cysts extremely problematic. As I have already mentioned, these cysts can rupture, most often leading to death.

Mostly because of lack of education, as is shown in the article that I have linked to above, any discussion of the presence of E.g. is casual and heavily avoided. It shouldn’t be. Yes, the disease has been around for a long time and has different forms, some more dangerous than others but it does exist and can be a real threat to humans.

Why are we now seeing this parasitic disease? More than likely due to the increased populations of coyotes and wolves – wolves in particular because they tend to travel farther and faster than coyotes, offering the opportunity to more rapidly and thoroughly spreading the worms.

For more information about the disease itself, follow this link. Follow this link for information about the disease and how it can effect humans and the threat that exists. This information was provided to me by qualified individuals. If readers would like more specific information, please leave requests in the comment section or email me directly.

Here’s an example showing the life cycle of the parasite.