Intestinal zoonotic parasites in dogs and foxes in an Echinococcus multilocularis endemic area (Limburg)
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Foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and dogs (Canis familiaris) are definitive hosts for zoonotic parasites such as Echinococcus multilocularis, Taenia sp., Toxocara canis, Ancylostoma sp., and Giardia duodenalis. Eggs/cystst of these parasites, shed by these animals, can infect humans, and thus poses a public health concern. The occurrence of the zoonotic tapeworm E. multilocularis, that can cause severe disease in a small number of humans, was previously reported in the fox population in South-Limburg. The occurrence of this parasite was expected to be extending in northwesterly direction. Current study was designed to determine the occurrence of E. multilocularis in Limburg and assess the possible northward extension of its occurrence. Hunters in mid-and north Limburg were asked to send in fecal samples from foxes. Fox (n=46) scats were analyzed by magnetic capture-based DNA extraction and qPCR for the presence of E. multilocularis. Additionally, the role of dogs as definitive hosts of E. multilocularis was investigated, as well as the occurrence of multiple other zoonotic parasites in dogs. Dog owners in Limburg were asked to participate in the study by sending in fecal samples of their dog(s). Fecal samples (n=125) of domestic dogs from Limburg were analyzed by centrifuge sedimentation flotation and FLOTAC. Associations between dogs’ lifestyles/behaviors and patent infections were evaluated using answers of a questionnaire filled out by dog owners Awareness about E. multilocularis was assessed among dog owners as well as veterinarians and pet store owners both being selling points of anthelmintics. There was no evidence found that the endemic area for E. multilocularis has expanded to more northern parts of Limburg. Two positive samples (22.2%; 95% confidence interval 0 – 49.1%) were however found in the control area (adjacent to Maastricht). Additionally, no E. multilocularis cases were found in dogs. The majority of veterinarians give advice to (some) dog owners about E. multilocularis in the area, but their knowledge about risk factors is not always accurate. Only 31% of the participating veterinarians, occasionally advice a deworming frequency of the recommended 12 times a year for E. multilocularis. Results of the questionnaire also suggest that deworming schemes adhered to by owners for dogs at risk for E. multilocularis infection are largely inadequate. Patent infections of other zoonotic parasites are occurrent in the dog population. Likely due to a small sample size, no behavioral risk factors for patent infections could be identified.