Echinococcus is an infection triggered by a parasitic tapeworm that belongs to the Echinococcus genus. There are various types of tapeworms capable of causing echinococcus among humans. In some cases, the organs affected usually depend on the type of tapeworm that caused the infection. If the infection is left untreated, it can be deadly. With prompt treatment, the outlook might be a good one.
What are the indications?
The symptoms tend to vary depending on the affected organs. The infection typically affects the liver in most individuals who acquire the infection. The symptoms might include abdominal pain and the formation of cysts on the liver.
In some cases, the infection affects the lungs. The respiratory symptoms can include coughing up blood-streaked mucus and chest pain. The other parts of the body can also be affected including the spleen, skin or the kidneys.
What causes echinococcus?
If an individual is infected by a parasitic tapeworm, echinococcus will surely develop. The parasite enters a host which is an animal such as a goat, dog or sheep. The worm thrives in the bowels and releases its eggs into the feces of the animal.
One is likely to acquire the infection when eating food that has been contaminated by animal feces. After the contaminated food is eaten, the incubation period is usually a few months.
This simply means that it might take a few months before any symptoms manifests. There are certain strains of the parasite that have a longer incubation period that can take up years.
A big risk factor for acquiring the parasite is exposure to feces of pigs, dogs, cattle or sheep. This is an issue for those who work in farms with these animals.
Contaminated food or water is also another risk factor especially those that have tapeworm eggs.
How is it diagnosed
The doctor will ask about the symptoms and carry out medical tests to analyze the infection. A chest X-ray might be used to dismiss other forms of infection. In some cases, an abdominal MRI or CT scan is used to come up with a diagnosis.
Since the incubation stage can be extensive, the echinococcus parasites might be discovered while other medical tests are performed for other reasons.
Treatment for echinococcus
There are medications that can be used to eliminate the parasite. In some circumstances, the doctor might also recommend surgery. Take note that the specific treatment plan usually depends on the severity of the symptoms as well as the affected organs.
Medications that are usually prescribed include albendazole or mebendazole. Even anti-inflammatory medications are also recommended to deal with the inflammation of the organs due to the parasite. Oftentimes, chemotherapy medications are also used to treat the organ cysts due to the parasite.
There are instances in which the doctor might recommend surgery to deal with the cysts triggered by the infection. In case the infection also affects the brain and there is buildup of fluid, surgery is usually advised which involves the installation of a shunt to drain fluid from the brain.