Beware of alveolar echinococcosis! This disease is particularly prevalent in Franche-Comté. Specialists tell us everything about this condition, which is carried by infected animals, among other things.
It’s here ” fox disease “, but not only ! Alveolar echinococcosis can affect animals and then inhabitants of urban and rural areas, without distinction. A large part of eastern France is affected, ranging from the Ardennes to Savoy. Franche-Comté, Lorraine but also the Alps are concerned. The members of the association for information and research on alveolar echinococcosis are organizing an exhibition on this subject, at the Jean-Minjoz hospital in Besançon (Doubs) on September 21 and 22. Here are a few things to know about the disease and protect yourself against it.
Where does echinococcosis come from?
” Echinococcus eggs are found on the ground, in the grass. Voles ingest them when they feed. Larvae then hatch in the liver of this animal », describes Marie-Christine Zen. It should also be noted that it is the same mode of development that the disease follows in man.
The president of the association for information and research on alveolar echinococcosis continues: “ The cycle of spreading echinococcosis then continues, when the foxes eat the voles. It is on this occasion that they in turn develop the disease. Just like cats and dogs, their intestines gradually become infested with worms “.
” Infected foxes, cats and dogs then release echinococcus eggs into the wild through their droppings. When they are on wild fruits such as blueberries, strawberries or even vegetables from his garden, such as lettuces or dandelions, this is where transmission to humans can take place. “, describes Marie-Christine Zen, herself formerly ill. An important clarification, according to Professor Dominique Vuitton, Professor Emeritus at the University of Franche-Comté: One of the modes of transmission is through the droppings and not through the urine of these animals, as some people may mistakenly believe. “.
It is also possible to contract the disease through contact with animals. ” Hunters can, for example, be contaminated by the fact that their dogs like to roll in nature, and therefore potentially in the droppings of other infected animals. The eggs can then end up on the coat adds Marie-Christine Zen. A careless caress on an infected animal can therefore be enough, for example, to end up with echinococcus eggs on your hands.
What are the symptoms ?
Symptoms do not appear immediately. ” When the symptoms are declared, the disease is already at an advanced stage. We have fever, jaundice, abdominal pain associated with a large liver. The clinical manifestations are seen mainly in the liver, but there have already been cases where other organs have been affected asks Marie-Christine Zen.
Some people are more at risk. ” This is the case of immunocompromised patients, such as those with, for example, cancer or rheumatic diseases. As soon as there is an abnormality in the liver, the carers of these people living in the areas concerned must be very vigilant. These people are 10 times more likely to develop the disease », argues Professor Dominique Vuitton.
The vectors of the disease are complicated to locate. ” We can compare the evolution of the disease to that of tumours, so silently. On average, it takes between 5 and 15 years from contamination to the first symptoms adds Marie-Christine Zen. This explains the difficulties in perceiving the symptoms, except during regular health appointments. ” A third of cases are detected by chance. The disease is increasingly detected during other analyses. It is discovered during ultrasounds, blood tests and scanners », adds Marie-Christine Zen.
” There have been patients who have had these clinical manifestations 20 years after contamination. It is necessary to wait until the larvae are 5 to 10 millimeters, so that we can see them on an infected patient. To compare, an echinococcus egg measures much less than a millimeter: exactly one hundred microns. The worms, present in the thousands in the intestines of foxes or other infected animals, measure between 3 and 5 millimeters long. », concludes Professor Dominique Vuitton.
Can this disease be cured?
A remedy exists, it is still necessary to be able to use it. Two cases must be distinguished. First there is the situation where the disease has developed significantly in the patient. ” If it is not possible to precisely locate the place of the body where the larvae are lodged, the sick person will have to follow an antiparasitic treatment for life. It does not kill the vectors, but prevents them from developing says Professor Dominique Vuitton, Emeritus Professor at the University of Franche-Comté.
The other case concerns patients who have contracted a less serious infection. ” Depending on where in the body the larvae causing the disease are located, doctors may consider a curative operation. This may involve removing parts of the infected organs. Once performed, medical treatment must be taken for two years. A blood test is carried out at the end of this treatment : if the results are favorable, the patient can be considered cured “, says the health professional who has worked for 40 years on this subject.
How to protect yourself from it?
It is possible to protect yourself from this disease by following a few simple steps. For owners of dogs and cats, washing their hands after any contact. On the food side, you should know that only cooking at more than 60 degrees has destroyed the vectors of alveolar echinococcosis. ” No need to wash your fruits and vegetables with clean water, white vinegar or bleach, or even to freeze them. : it is ineffective. The only solution is to cook them for 5 minutes at 60 degrees or 1 minute at 100 degrees “says Professor Dominique Vuitton.
According to 2017 figures from the Ministry of Agriculture, around thirty people on average declare this disease each year on French territory.