What is the definition of Echinococcosis?

Echinococcosis is an infection caused by either the Echinococcus granulosus or Echinococcus multilocularis tapeworm. The infection is also called hydatid disease.

What are the alternative names for Echinococcosis?

Hydatidosis; Hydatid disease, Hydatid cyst disease; Alveolar cyst disease; Polycystic echinococcosis

What are the causes for Echinococcosis?

Humans become infected when they swallow the tapeworm eggs in contaminated food. The eggs then form cysts inside the body. A cyst is a closed pocket or pouch. The cysts keep growing, which leads to symptoms.

E granulosus is an infection caused by tapeworms found in dogs and livestock such as sheep, pigs, goats, and cattle. These tapeworms are around 2 to 7 mm long. The infection is called cystic echinococcosis (CE). It leads to growth of cysts mainly in the lungs and liver. Cysts can also be found in the heart, bones, and brain.

E multilocularis is the infection caused by tapeworms found in dogs, cats, rodents, and foxes. These tapeworms are around 1 to 4 mm long. The infection is called alveolar echinococcosis (AE). It is a life-threatening condition because tumor-like growths form in the liver. Other organs, such as the lungs and brain can be affected.

Children or young adults are more prone to get the infection.

Echinococcosis is common in:

  • Africa
  • Central Asia
  • Southern South America
  • The Mediterranean
  • The Middle East

In rare cases, the infection is seen in the United States. It has been reported in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.

Risk factors include being exposed to:

  • Cattle
  • Deer
  • Feces of dogs, foxes, wolves, or coyotes
  • Pigs
  • Sheep
  • Camels

What are the symptoms for Echinococcosis?

Cysts may produce no symptoms for 10 years or more.

As the disease advances and the cysts get larger, symptoms may include:

  • Pain in the upper right part of the abdomen (liver cyst)
  • Increase in size of the abdomen due to swelling (liver cyst)
  • Bloody sputum (lung cyst)
  • Chest pain (lung cyst)
  • Cough (lung cyst)
  • Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) when cysts break open

What are the current treatments for Echinococcosis?

Many people can be treated with anti-worm medicines.

A procedure that involves inserting a needle through the skin into the cyst may be tried. The contents of the cyst is removed (aspirated) through the needle. Then medicine is sent through the needle to kill the tapeworm. This treatment is not for cysts in the lungs.

Surgery is the treatment of choice for cysts that are large, infected, or located in organs such as the heart and brain.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Echinococcosis?

If the cysts respond to oral medicines, the likely outcome is good.

When should I contact a medical professional for Echinococcosis?

Contact your provider if you develop symptoms of this disorder.

How do I prevent Echinococcosis?

Measures to prevent CE and AE include:

  • Staying away from wild animals including foxes, wolves, and coyotes
  • Avoiding contact with stray dogs
  • Washing hands well after touching pet dogs or cats, and before handling food


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Parasites - echinococcosis. www.cdc.gov/parasites/echinococcosis/treatment.html. Updated December 12, 2012. Accessed November 5, 2020.

Gottstein B, Beldi G. Echinococcosis. In: Cohen J, Powderly WG, Opal SM, eds. Infectious Diseases. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 120.

Enrico Brunetti
Pavia, IT
Mara Mariconti
Pavia, IT
Tommaso Manciulli
Pavia, IT
Hazem Zribi
Tunis, TN
Francesca Tamarozzi
Verona, IT
Bruno Gottstein
Bern, BE, CH
  • Condition: Retroperitoneal Echinococcosis
  • Journal: Medicine
  • Treatment Used: Surgery
  • Number of Patients: 109
  • Published —
In this study, researchers sought to determine the best surgical treatment for retroperitoneal echinococcosis.
  • Condition: Hepatic Hydatid Cysts
  • Journal: The Korean journal of gastroenterology = Taehan Sohwagi Hakhoe chi
  • Treatment Used: Surgical Resection and Albendazole
  • Number of Patients: 1
  • Published —
The study researched the outcomes of surgical resection combined with albendazole for treating hepatic hydatid cysts.