Hydatid disease results from an infection due to the Echinococcus species, a microscopic tapeworm found in foxes, dogs and cats. Although human cases are rare, infection in humans results in cysts in the liver, lungs, brain and other organs. The disease is common all over India but especially in Kashmir.
How is it caused?
Animals such as cats and dogs may get infected when they eat Echinococcus larvae in infected rodents and mice. Once the animal becomes infected, the tapeworm matures in its intestine, lays eggs and may pass eggs in its stool. These tapeworm eggs are too tiny to see and may stick to anything they come in contact with.
The human beings may get the infection by directly ingesting food items contaminated with the infected stool. This may include grass, herbs or berries gathered from fields. Infection may also develop by handling household cats and dogs that may be infected. The pets may shed the eggs in their stool and their fur may get contaminated.
What are the symptoms?
Hydatid disease is caused by tapeworm larvae growing in the body. It usually involves the liver, but may spread to other organs like lung and brain as well. Because the cysts grow slowly, the infection may not produce symptoms for years. Pain in the upper abdomen, weakness and weight loss may occur as a result of the growing cysts.
How is the condition diagnosed?
A blood test called Casoni’s test may detect the presence of antibodies to the parasite. The parasite may also be directly identified in fluid or tissue samples. An X-ray, ultrasound or CT scan may be done to localize the cyst and measure its size.
What is the treatment for Hydatid disease?
Surgical removal is the most effective form of treatment for hydatid cysts. Drugs like albendazole may be given before surgery to reduce the size of the cyst and after surgery to prevent recurrence of the cyst.
How can the disease be prevented?
Always wash hands with soap and warm water after handling pets.
Don’t keep wild cats as pets or let them come close to your home.
Don’t allow cats and dogs to wander or to capture and eat rodents.