Cancer-like parasitic worm disease on the rise in Canada
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Reports of a rare, but potentially fatal, parasite are on the rise in Canada.
The disease alveolar echinococcosis (AE) occurs regularly in certain areas of Europe and Asia, but had been virtually undocumented in North America before the 2010s, Gizmodo reported.
Humans generally contract the rare disease by consuming microscopic tapeworm eggs which can then implant themselves into organs and become difficult to detect. However, if not treated, it can eventually turn into lethal tumor-like growths.
Now, however, University of Alberta scientists are sounding the alarm that the west Canada province has seen a disturbing amount of cases in recent years. Between 2013 and 2020, researchers report that they’ve seen 17 instances of AE, the symptoms of which are often similar to those of liver cancer, in Alberta, according to a case review this year.
In all 17 cases, antiparasitic drugs — a secondary approach when surgery does not sufficiently get rid of the growth — were used to treat the individual’s AE. One person died as a result of complications from surgery.
Researchers aren’t sure what caused the recent rise in cases.
“Why it is most apparent in Alberta, by far, at the present time, is somewhat speculative,” Stan Houston, a University of Alberta infectious diseases expert and the lead author of the case review, told Gizmodo. “I think some mix of factors of where the parasite was first introduced and/or favorable wildlife ecology are most likely.”
The researchers believe that the increase in the still very rare disease in Alberta may be correlated with a rise in dog ownership in the area.
“Of course it could, and in fact, what we know so far suggests that the parasite has been remarkably successful, achieving considerably higher prevalence in Alberta coyotes than in its natural reservoir, the red fox in Europe,” Houston said. “It is unequivocally new as a human disease in the Western Hemisphere. The explanation very clearly seems to be the introduction of the more virulent European strain of the parasite into our wildlife ecology.”
Washing your hands after touching dogs or other wildlife and other basic good hygiene routines can help lower your risk of contracting the disease.
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