Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at January 2, 2017

Echinococcosis is a parasitic disease that is caused by the invasion of tapeworms that belong to the Echinocococcus genus. The disease is also known as hydatid disease or hydatidosis. It is estimated by the World Health Organization that over one million may be affected by echinococcosis at any one time.


Definition & Facts

Echinococcosis is a rare disease caused by tapeworms. It occurs when a person comes into contact with soil, dirt, or animal hair that contains the tapeworm eggs and accidentally ingests those eggs. Two classifications of the disease include:

  • Cystic echinococcosis, which is caused by the larval stage of the Echinococcus granulosus tapeworm
  • Alveolar echinococcosis is caused by the larval stage of the Echinococcus multilocularis tapeworm

The disease develops in the liver, lungs, spleen, heart, or even the brain. People who have cystic echinococcosis begin to develop slow growths where the disease is located. These growths are called cysts. Those with alveolar echinococcosis also suffer from these growths, but they are rarely localized in one area of the body; rather they are spread throughout the infected person's body.

Symptoms & Complaints

A person with cysts developing in certain areas of the lung may begin to develop some of the following symptoms:

Patients who have cysts growing in certain areas of the liver may feel abdominal pain or tenderness. They may suffer from fever, itching, and swelling.


People develop this condition when they accidentally swallow the eggs of the tapeworm which are typically contained in the feces of animals. The eggs hatch somewhere in the small intestine and proceed to penetrate the intestinal wall where the parasite attempts to colonize a particular organ like the liver.

Diagnosis & Tests

The diagnostic process involves an intake of the patient's medical history, family history, presentation of symptoms, and a physical examination. The diagnosing health care professional will also attempt to find out if the patient would have a reason to come into contact with materials that might have been contaminated. The health care professional will inquire if patients traveled to locations where parasitic diseases are more common.

Detecting this disease involves imaging tools. These could include computed tomography (CT) scans, ultrasonography, X-rays, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. They will reveal the presence of cysts in internal organs. Blood tests may be performed as well.

Treatment & Therapy

Some people with this ailment have inactive cysts. Sometimes the cysts resolve on their own. Surgery to remove the cysts is a common treatment approach. Chemotherapy using albendozole may be used before and after surgery to increase the efficacy of the surgery. Patients who have cysts growing in numerous places or in places that are hard to reach may also use PAIR, which stands for percutaneous aspiration injection respiration.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Preventing this disease involves controlling exposure and limiting exposure to wild animals. People who have dogs should ensure that they do not feed on sheep or other livestock. Contact with stray dogs should be avoided.

It is very important that no food or water is consumed if there is a possibility that it has come in contact with an animal. Proper hygiene is crucial in preventing this condition. One should be sure to wash their hands frequently.