(Rudolphi, 1819) Mueller, 1937
Spirometra erinaceieuropaei is a tapeworm that infects domestic animals and humans. In humans infection is called sparganosis. Spirometra erinaceieuropaei’s distribution is cosmopolitan, meaning that it can be found nearly anywhere the parasite can complete its life cycle. This species is closely related to Spirometra mansonoides, and few morphological differences exist between the two. One difference is that the uterus of S. mansonoides is a “U” shape, but in S. erinaceieuropaei the uterus consists of two sections that resemble horns. The life cycle of both species is very similar.
In 2014 a British man was found to have been infected by the tapeworm from an unknown cause (possibly a traditional frog meat poultice) while in China. The parasitic worm was recorded on successive MRI scans of his brain, moving location by about 5 cm before doctors realized it was alive. The 50-year-old first visited doctors in 2008 suffering from headaches, seizures, memory loss, and complaining that his sense of smell had changed. The 1-cm ribbon-shaped larval worm was removed during a surgical procedure and the man recovered.
The worm has an interesting lifecycle. The adult worm lives in the small intestine of cats and dogs, where it may grow as long as 1.5 meters. Eggs from the worm are passed with the host feces, when they develop into a procercoid larva. This larva may be directly ingested by humans or may enter an intermediate host which include frogs, birds, snakes, rats and mice and become a plerocercoid larva. When cats, dogs, foxes or wolves eat the intermediate host, the worm completes its life cycle becoming an egg producing adult. Because humans would normally ingest the worm at the procercoid stage and are not usually eaten by cats and dogs, the human is a dead-end host.
Although humans can get infected with this parasite, it should be understood that they cannot contract it from an infected cat or dog. People can’t get infected by ingesting the eggs, which is what the pet would be shedding. They would have to eat the procercoid stage, which is found in the intermediate hosts. If the meat of an intermediate host, such as chicken, is undercooked and it happens to be contaminated by the parasite, the person can get infected.
Diagnoses and Treatment
An easy way to determine if an animal is infected with any type of tapeworm is seeing the proglottids in the feces. These are the white segments that break off from the parasite. To determine the type of species, a fecal sample under the microscope to see the eggs would be the best way. The eggs of any Spirometra species are oval shaped with a distinct operculum at one pole.The treatment for Spirometra erinaceieuropaei is the drug praziquantel, which is typical for tapeworm infections.
- "Intraspecific variation of Spirometra erinaceieuropaei and phylogenetic relationship between Spirometra and Diphyllobothrium inferred from mitochondrial CO1 gene sequences". Parasitology International 56: 235–238. doi:10.1016/j.parint.2007.03.003.
- "Parasitic tapeworm lived in man’s brain for four years" The Telegraph newspaper (London), access date 11.21.2014
- "The genome of the sparganosis tapeworm Spirometra erinaceieuropaeiisolated from the biopsy of a migrating brain lesion". Genome Biology 15. doi:10.1186/s13059-014-0510-3.
- "Survey of Spirometra erinaceieuropaei spargana infection in the frog Rana nigromaculata of the Hunan Province of China". Veterinary Parasitology 173: 152–156. doi:10.1016/j.vetpar.2010.06.005.
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