Echinococcosis is an infectious disease of parasitic origin, triggered by the Echinococcus variant of tapeworms, including Echinococcus granulosus, Echinococcus oligarthrus, Echinococcus multilocularis and Echinococcus vogeli. It is also termed as hydatid disease, echinococcal disease and hydatidosis. The foremost sign of echinococcosis is the formation of fluid-filled cysts in the liver or the lungs. In some cases, no other indications are experienced, but at times, the cystic growths are accompanied by pain in the abdomen, fever and jaundice. Being a zoonotic ailment similar to the coronavirus disease i.e. a condition wherein the pathogenic microbe is transferred from animals to humans, echinococcosis spreads to people by means of contaminated food, water, soil and direct contact with sick creatures.
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Although human echinococcosis is rare and can be treated with elaborate surgical procedures, potent prescription medications, the healthcare costs involved are very expensive and must be administered over a prolonged period of time. Moreover, severe organ damage and death from echinococcosis can occur, with the discomforting indications persisting in the human body for months and sometimes, even years together. It is hence essential to be aware of prevention measures to avert the onset of echinococcosis and gain insight into the causes, symptoms of this zoonotic infectious illness induced by tapeworm parasites, for accurate diagnosis and timely treatment.
Types Of Echinococcosis
Depending on the Echinococcus parasite i.e. tapeworm species that give rise to infection, echinococcosis is categorised into four distinct forms:
This sickness is triggered by Echinococcus granulosus variant of tapeworm parasite. It is otherwise referred to as hydatidosis or hydatid disease.
Echinococcus multilocularis induces this type of parasitic infection in humans.
This kind of echinococcosis is caused by infection from Echinococcus vogeli species of tapeworm.
Echinococcus oligarthrus class of tapeworm prompts this kind of parasitic infection in human beings.
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The Echinococcus species of tapeworm, which is fundamentally a parasite, is the root causative factor for echinococcosis in humans. Ingesting food, drinking water and touching soil polluted with the eggs of the Echinococcus tapeworm transfers the microbe to the human system.
Additionally, many animals, both herbivorous and carnivorous, function as intermediate hosts in the transmission of echinococcosis parasitic infection to humans, sheltering the mature tapeworm within the confines of their guts – stomachs and intestines. These consist of domestic animals such as dogs, cats, goats, sheep, cattle, yaks, pigs, even camels like in Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), as well as wild creatures of foxes, rodents, that are already afflicted by the echinococcal parasitic strain.
The distinguishing signs of cystic echinococcosis comprise hydatid cysts situated in the liver and lungs. These lumps can also arise in the bones, central nervous system, muscles, kidneys and spleen. Since the incubation period of the tapeworm lasts for a few years, no other external indications are displayed by the affected person, making them asymptomatic until the cysts become enlarged and hamper the functioning of organs in the body. Along with cysts in the liver, abdominal pain, nausea, massive swelling of hepatic tissues, vomiting, anaphylactic reactions, jaundice and fevers are also exhibited by infected persons. If several cysts form in the lungs, then more upsetting signals of breathing difficulty, chest pain and chronic cough tend to occur in the affected individuals. People with cystic echinococcosis also suffer from sudden weight loss and extreme weakness in the body.
In alveolar echinococcosis, the asymptomatic incubation period is rather lengthy, from 5 to 15 years. It is characterized by the gradual development and progression of a tumour-like lesion in the liver. Other symptoms such as liver failure, unexplained weight loss, excruciating aching and tenderness in the abdominal area also occur. The growing tapeworms can spread infection from the liver to neighbouring organs like the spleen and even body parts further away, such as the lungs, heart and brain, through systemic circulation in the blood and lymphatic system. Thus, alveolar echinococcosis must be given prompt medical care and treatment as soon as symptoms are reported in the inflicted person since it could be fatal if left unattended.
Once the symptoms are reported to the doctor, visual scans of the patient employing primarily ultrasonography, along with CT (computed tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) techniques are carried out. These images aid in detecting the location, size and presence of liquid-filled areas in the cysts forming during echinococcosis infection in the liver and lungs of the patient.
Furthermore, a tissue biopsy is performed, in which a small portion of cells is carefully excised from the liver, lungs of the infected person, to determine the presence of echinococcus class of tapeworm parasites in the human system and bloodstream.