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Alberta scientists warn spread of deadly tapeworm found in coyotes

Click to play video: 'Potentially deadly tapeworm found in Alberta' Potentially deadly tapeworm found in Alberta
WATCH ABOVE: A few cases of a kind of tapeworm that can be transmitted through dog feces have been confirmed in Alberta – Jul 19, 2017

Albertans are being warned about the spread of a potentially deadly parasite.

University of Alberta physicians said a parasitic disease, which was first found in Alberta coyotes, has been found in humans.

“There have been four Alberta patients with the tapeworm in the last four years. The only previous Canadian case was in 1928 in Manitoba. This is significant enough to warrant a watchful eye on the problem,” U of A infectious diseases expert Stan Houston said.

University of Calgary biologists believe the parasite strain was brought to Alberta by a dog from Europe.

“The public should not be overly worried about getting this disease as it is rare in North America,” U of A physician Klaus Buttenschoen said. “People with low immunity are at greater risk.”

According to experts, the parasite starts as a relatively harmless tapeworm in canines, usually coyotes and foxes. Rodents get the parasite by eating canine feces, which results in the disease manifesting into the form of lumps on the liver. When a coyote or pet dog eats the infected rodent, the parasite returns to tapeworm form in the canine.

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Humans get the tapeworm by eating foods grown close to the ground and exposed to traces of canine feces or when traces of pet feces lands in a dog’s hair and a person pets the dog, then touches their food or mouth.

The parasite then transitions into lumps on the liver inside an infected person.

“Unfortunately, while it’s harmless to a dog or coyote, the rodent will die and the human needs treatment as soon as possible,” Houston said.

“This is an important example of the inescapable ecological interaction between human and animal health. Most emerging infectious diseases come from animals and now here is another one right on our doorstep.”

Houston said if the tapeworm goes untreated, it can spread to other parts of the body besides the liver.

“Roughly one third of patients who are diagnosed are jaundiced. Another third report unspecified pain and see a doctor for that reason. The other third will visit a doctor for another reason and through an ultrasound or CT scan, a liver mass is identified.”

Two thirds of patients will be inoperable because the parasite is initially symptomless.

“They can survive the parasite with lifelong anti-parasitic medicine. If it is entirely removed surgically, patients usually only need to be on the medicines for two years,” Houston said.

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The parasite can kill an infected person in 10 to 15 years if left untreated.

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