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Potentially deadly tapeworm can affect dogs and humans alike

Dogs and humans can be infected by a potentially deadly tapeworm that University of Guelph researchers say is now in southern Ontario, including Waterloo Region.


The tapeworm, Echinococcus multilocularis, wasnt thought to be present in Ontario until five sick dogs from the west side of Lake Ontario — in the Golden Horseshoe area — were identified between 2012 and 2016.


One of the infected dogs was from Guelph, said Andrew Peregrine, a professor at Guelphs Ontario Veterinary College and one of the authors of a published study on the tapeworms presence in the province.


After the cluster of infections was found, Peregrine and the chief medical officer of health for the Guelph area spoke up.


"She said, You folks have got to map where this parasite is in Ontario because, at the moment, its not on the radar of any physicians because were not supposed to have it in Ontario," he said.

"(For) about a third of people (infected), the surgeons can remove all the parasite from the liver — theyll just cut it out," Peregrine said. "The rest go into long-term chemotherapy."


Most dogs who have developed the disease are treated the same way, he added.


Peregrine said not all dogs are at risk of carrying the tapeworm. He recommends pet owners speak with their veterinarians for advice.


"If (your dog) never goes outside or hardly goes outside the backyard, then the risk of this is minimal," he said. "But if your dog goes off leash and you know it hunts or eats rodents ... then there is a drug you can give the dogs regularly to stop them from developing intestinal infections."


Last year, partly because of the Guelph study, Ontario became the first province in the country to make it mandatory for physicians and veterinarians to report all human and animal cases to local public health departments.


Peregrine said there have been a couple of human cases reported.


He and his team are now leading a followup study to determine how prevalent the tapeworm is in dogs. They have collected fecal samples from 10 dog parks across the Golden Horseshoe area and will soon begin testing.