Epidemiology & Risk Factors

Cystic echinococcosis (CE) is caused by infection with the larval stage of Echinococcus granulosus. CE is found in Africa, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Central and South America, and in rare cases, North America. The parasite is transmitted to dogs when they ingest the organs of other animals that contain hydatid cysts. The cysts develop into adult tapeworms in the dog. Infected dogs shed tapeworm eggs in their feces which contaminate the ground. Sheep, cattle, goats, and pigs ingest tapeworm eggs in the contaminated ground; once ingested, the eggs hatch and develop into cysts in the internal organs. The most common mode of transmission to humans is by the accidental consumption of soil, water, or food that has been contaminated by the fecal matter of an infected dog. Echinococcus eggs that have been deposited in soil can stay viable for up to a year. The disease is most commonly found in people involved in raising sheep, as a result of the sheep’s role as an intermediate host of the parasite and the presence of working dogs that are allowed to eat the offal of infected sheep.

Alveolar echinococcosis (AE) is caused by infection with the larval stage of Echinococcus multilocularis. AE is found across the globe and is especially prevalent in the northern latitudes of Europe, Asia, and North America. The adult tapeworm is normally found in foxes, coyotes, and dogs. Infection with the larval stages is transmitted to people through ingestion of food or water contaminated with tapeworm eggs.

Page last reviewed: December 12, 2012