I have written in past articles for this newspaper about diseases and viruses that are spread by wild and domestic canines. One in particular is the worm Echinococcus granulosus (E.g.), which can be a very serious threat to humans.

In brief, the worm is found in the digestive systems of canines (wolves, coyotes, foxes, etc.). In the feces of these animals can be found the tiny worms that get ingested by animals such as deer, moose and elk as they eat and graze near infected feces. The worms are extremely viable in varying conditions. With the worm inside these animals, cysts can form on organs such as lungs and liver. While not a direct life-threatening situation for wild ungulates, poor health limits their ability to forage and escape the threats from predators.

Humans can ingest these worms as well and it can pose very serious health issues and possibly death. Typically, humans risk ingestion from their free-roaming dog that can bring the infectious parasites home on its fur or in its mouth. Once infected, the danger exists in its feces posing real threats when encountered in and near your property.

There is an even more serious threat moving closer to Maine from Echinococcus multilocularis (E.m.). I have been in contact with several scientists and parasitologists about this new threat.

Typically, E. multilocularis was thought to not exist in climates that approach the U.S./Canadian border from the north. However, this parasite has been found in prevalence in areas just west of Toronto, Ontario, and much of southern Ontario.

This parasite, most often carried by foxes and coyotes, can be picked up by your dog and then poses a threat to pet owners and anyone who comes in contact with infected pets. The parasite attacks the liver of dogs and humans and can cause death. The E. multilocularis form is much more dangerous than the E. granulosus.

The World Heath Organization says that at any one time, there are over 1 million cases of echinococcusis worldwide.

Andrew Peregrine, a professor at Guelph University College of Veterinary Medicine, says, “Unlike the tapeworms that typically occur in dogs and cats, this one is really nasty,” adding that it can cause disease of the liver and, if left untreated, can spread to other organs and cause death in dogs and humans.

It has been proven that the E.g. parasite is prevalent and widespread in Maine. Tests have revealed the Hydatid cysts (the result of E.g. infection) in the lungs of moose. Biologists like to call these lungworms. Because moose are tested and found to have these cysts, it is proof that coyotes, and perhaps other canines, carry the worms. They are the primary hosts.

Coyotes, like wolves, cover large areas of the landscape and pose the biggest threat for the spread of the diseases. Because E. multilocularis is prevalent in southern Ontario, it is now only a matter of time before it hits Maine.

Dog owners are the most at risk and should talk with their veterinarians about this issue. Doctors do not necessarily look for and treat for E.g. and/or E.m., because it was never thought to exist around these parts. Things have changed.

Regular treatment for these worms can work effectively to mitigate the risks of infection for your dog and you. Good hygiene (washing of the hands) can help. Those who allow their dogs to run free are most at risk. Hunting dogs should be checked and treated regularly.

Humans should be aware that handling of an infectious dog puts them at risk. The E.m. spores are even smaller than the E.g. ones and cannot be seen with the naked eye. The spores can easily get on the fur and mouth area of dogs from rolling in and eating infected carrion and feces. If your dog is a free-roaming/hunting dog, I might suggest not allowing your dog in your house. Even if your dog is properly medicated, the eggs can be brought into the home by your pet on its fur and mouth area.

Depending on the prevalence in our area, sheep ranchers might want to consider treating their animals against the parasite, if they haven’t already.

filed under: