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DPDx is an education resource designed for health professionals and laboratory scientists. For an overview including prevention and control visit www.cdc.gov/parasites/echinococcosis/.

Echinococcosis

[Echinococcus granulosus] [Echinococcus multilocularis] [Echinococcus oligarthrus] [Echinococcus vogeli]

Protoscoleces in a hydatid cyst removed from lung tissue, stained with hematoxylin and eosin (H&E).

Protoscoleces in a hydatid cyst removed from lung tissue, stained with hematoxylin and eosin (H&E). Image taken at 200x magnification. Image courtesy of Phoenix Children's Hospital, Phoenix, AZ.


 Protoscolex of Echinococcus granulosus in an unstained wet mount made from a liver aspirate.

Protoscolex of Echinococcus granulosus in an unstained wet mount made from a liver aspirate.

Echinococcus Cell

Protoscolex of Echinococcus from a liver aspirate stained with Papanicolaou (PAP) stain.

Causal Agent

Human echinococcosis (hydatidosis, or hydatid disease) is caused by the larval stages of cestodes (tapeworms) of the genus Echinococcus. Echinococcus granulosus causes cystic echinococcosis, the form most frequently encountered; E. multilocularis causes alveolar echinococcosis; E. vogeli causes polycystic echinococcosis; and E. oligarthrus is an extremely rare cause of human echinococcosis.

Life Cycle

Life cycle of Echinococcus.

The adult Echinococcus granulosus (3 to 6 mm long) The number 1 resides in the small bowel of the definitive hosts, dogs or other canids. Gravid proglottids release eggs The number 2 that are passed in the feces. After ingestion by a suitable intermediate host (under natural conditions: sheep, goat, swine, cattle, horses, camel), the egg hatches in the small bowel and releases an oncosphere The number 3 that penetrates the intestinal wall and migrates through the circulatory system into various organs, especially the liver and lungs. In these organs, the oncosphere develops into a cyst The number 4 that enlarges gradually, producing protoscolices and daughter cysts that fill the cyst interior. The definitive host becomes infected by ingesting the cyst-containing organs of the infected intermediate host. After ingestion, the protoscolices The number 5 evaginate, attach to the intestinal mucosa The number 6, and develop into adult stages The number 1 in 32 to 80 days. The same life cycle occurs with E. multilocularis (1.2 to 3.7 mm), with the following differences: the definitive hosts are foxes, and to a lesser extent dogs, cats, coyotes and wolves; the intermediate host are small rodents; and larval growth (in the liver) remains indefinitely in the proliferative stage, resulting in invasion of the surrounding tissues. With E. vogeli (up to 5.6 mm long), the definitive hosts are bush dogs and dogs; the intermediate hosts are rodents; and the larval stage (in the liver, lungs and other organs) develops both externally and internally, resulting in multiple vesicles. E. oligarthrus (up to 2.9 mm long) has a life cycle that involves wild felids as definitive hosts and rodents as intermediate hosts. Humans become infected by ingesting eggs The number 2, with resulting release of oncospheres The number 3 in the intestine and the development of cysts The number 4, The number 4, The number 4, The number 4, The number 4, The number 4 in various organs.

Geographic Distribution

Echinococcus granulosus occurs practically worldwide, and more frequently in rural, grazing areas where dogs ingest organs from infected animals. Echinococcus multilocularis occurs in the northern hemisphere, including central Europe and the northern parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. Echinococcus vogeli and Echinococcus oligarthrus occur in Central and South America.

Clinical Presentation

Echinococcus granulosus infections remain silent for years before the enlarging cysts cause symptoms in the affected organs. Hepatic involvement can result in abdominal pain, a mass in the hepatic area, and biliary duct obstruction. Pulmonary involvement can produce chest pain, cough, and hemoptysis. Rupture of the cysts can produce fever, urticaria, eosinophilia, and anaphylactic shock, as well as cyst dissemination. In addition to the liver and lungs, other organs (brain, bone, heart) can also be involved, with resulting symptoms. Echinococcus multilocularis affects the liver as a slow growing, destructive tumor, with abdominal pain, biliary obstruction, and occasionally metastatic lesions into the lungs and brain. Echinococcus vogeli affects mainly the liver, where it acts as a slow growing tumor; secondary cystic development is common.

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  • Page last reviewed November 29, 2013
  • Page last updated November 29, 2013
  • Content source: Global Health - Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria
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