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Echinococcus Multilocularis (Tapeworm)

​​​​​​What is Echinococcus multilocularis?

Echinococcus multilocularis (E. multilocularis) is a tapeworm that is spread by infected coyotes, foxes, and sometimes dogs and cats. People get this tapeworm by accidentally eating its eggs from unclean (contaminated) food, water, or hand to mouth contact. This can cause a disease called alveolar echinococcosis (AE).

What is the risk in Alberta?

The risk of people getting AE in Alberta is very low. Since 2013, there have been only a small number of reported cases in the province.

In Alberta, coyotes and foxes can have this tapeworm. They often live close to houses and parks, which can put people and pets at higher risk of getting this tapeworm. But even in places in North America where the tapeworm is common in animals, it’s rare that people get it.

How is E. multilocularis spread?

The tapeworm’s eggs are spread in the feces of infected coyotes, foxes, and sometimes dogs and cats. The eggs can live in the feces for a long time. When rodents (mice and voles) eat the eggs, the tapeworm infects the rodent.

When coyotes, foxes, dogs, or cats eat an infected rodent, the larvae grow into the adult tapeworms in the intestine. The adult tapeworms make new eggs that are shed in the animal’s feces, starting the cycle all over again. The adult tapeworms do not cause any symptoms or health problems in the coyote, fox, dog, or cat.

How can people get AE?

The tapeworm eggs are tiny and you can’t see them. The most common ways of getting AE are:

  • Eating fruits and vegetables (commonly wild berries and herbs) that have touched the feces of an infected coyote, fox, dog, or cat.
  • Touching soil with tapeworm eggs in it (e.g., children playing outside and not washing their hands before eating).
  • Touching an infected pet or places in the home that could have been in contact with the pet’s feces.
  • Handling many animals (e.g., coyotes, foxes, dogs) as part of your job or hobby (e.g., trappers, veterinarians, veterinary technicians).

What are the symptoms?

When a person eats the eggs, they may get cyst-like lesions in their liver. The lesions grow very slowly and may not cause any symptoms for years. Symptoms include:

  • pain or discomfort in the upper belly
  • weakness
  • weight loss

How is it treated?

AE often causes death if it’s not treated. The treatment is medicine to fight the parasites and surgery to remove the lesions.

How can people prevent AE?

The best ways to prevent AE are to:

  • Practise good hand hygiene. Always wash your hands with soap and water after touching pets and soil and before touching food. Teach children that hand washing is important.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables very well before eating them.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about ways to prevent tapeworm infections in your pets.
  • Don’t let your pet wander and eat rodents.
  • Clean up feces from your pet as soon as possible (indoors and outdoors).
  • Some dogs roll in wild animal feces and can spread the eggs on their fur. Keep your pet clean.
  • Don't touch a coyote, fox, or other wild animal (dead or alive), unless you’re wearing plastic, disposable gloves.

Where can I get more information?

For more information on Echinococcus multilocularis, see the following links:

Current as of: October 23, 2017

Author: Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, Alberta Health