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Potentially Deadly Tapeworm More Widespread in Ontario Than Thought, U of G Research Finds

A tapeworm that can infect dogs and humans and lead to potentially fatal illness is now widespread in southern Ontario, new work by Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) researchers at the University of Guelph has revealed. The researchers found the Echinococcus multilocularis tapeworm in nearly one in four coyotes and foxes they tested in southern Ontario, suggesting the potentially dangerous parasite is now well established in the region.

A risk to both pets and their owners, prevention is key. Consider treating your dog with a monthly heartworm preventative, that also includes a label claim to treat and control Echinococcus multilocularis (such as Interceptor Plus).

How do people get alveolar echinococcosis (AE)?

People who accidentally swallow the eggs of the Echinococcus multilocularis tapeworm are at risk for infection. People at high risk include trappers, hunters, veterinarians, or others who have contact with wild foxes, or coyotes, or their stool, or household dogs and cats that have the opportunity to eat wild rodents infected with AE. Humans can be exposed to these eggs by “hand-to-mouth” transfer or contamination.

  • By directly ingesting food items contaminated with stool from foxes or coyotes. This might include grass, herbs, greens, or berries gathered from fields.
  • By petting or handling household dogs or cats infected with the Echinococcus multilocularistape worm. These pets may shed the tapeworm eggs in their stool, and their fur may be contaminated. Some dogs “scent roll” in foreign material (such as wild animal feces) and may become contaminated this way.

In humans, AE progresses slowly over several years and causes tumour-like lesions in the body, usually in the liver. Treatment can be complicated and expensive, typically requiring surgery and drug therapy. If left untreated, AE will spread to other organs and eventually become fatal.

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