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Sweden steps up hunt for 'deadly' parasite

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12:07 CEST+02:00
Efforts to trace the source of a tapeworm first discovered in Sweden in February were stepped up after a fox with the parasite was recently shot in Södermanland in central Sweden.

The Swedish National Veterinary Institute (Svenska Veterinärmedicinska Anstalt) and the Swedish Hunters Association (Svenska Jägareförbundet) will begin collecting stool samples from the area where the fox with Echinococcus multilocularis parasite was shot.

Areas in Östergötland also will be mapped.

If the method proves successful, it can also be applied in Västra Götaland where the first two infected foxes were detected in February.

"The goal is to be finished by midsummer, before the holiday and berry season begins. Fears of infection affects people's outdoor plans," Daniel Ligné, deputy state game preservation consultant for the Swedish Hunters Association, told the TT news agency.

The greatest risk of infection for humans comes from house pets, such as dogs and cats, which reside in the parasite-affected areas.

“So far, the infection is very limited and the risk of being affected is small, but people are still afraid," Ligné told TT.

The National Board of Health & Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) and the National Agricultural Association (Jordbruksverket) are investigating best procedures to take to prevent the tapeworm from spreading.

One option is to reduce the fox population by shooting young foxes in infected areas.

To date, 3,000 foxes have been shot and collected during the hunting season. Of those, about 2,000 were analysed, with three foxes found to have had the tapeworm.

The tapeworm parasite can infect several animal species, including humans. Main hosts are foxes and dogs, while small rodents are intermediate hosts.

People become infected by ingesting the worm eggs through berries, mushrooms or vegetables that have become contaminated with fox or dog stool.

Worm eggs can sometimes also be found in the fur of a dog.

The infection is extremely difficult to treat and can even lead to death.

Currently, the risk of infection is very small.

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