Hydatid Disease (Echinococcosis): Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

Hydatid disease or echinococcosis, is a complex parasitic infection caused by the larvae of the Echinococcus tapeworm. In this article, we will take a look into the intricate details of hydatid disease, shedding light on it’s causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, and addressing frequently asked questions to provide a comprehensive understanding.

Causes Of Hydatid Disease

Hydatid disease typically results from the inadvertent ingestion of Echinococcus tapeworm eggs. The primary mode of transmission to humans occurs through the consumption of contaminated food, water, or soil. Once ingested, the tapeworm larvae develop into cysts, with the liver and lungs being the most commonly affected organs.

The lifecycle of the Echinococcus tapeworm involves two primary hosts; definitive and intermediate. In the case of hydatid disease:

  1. Definitive Hosts (Carnivores): The lifecycle begins in the intestines of definitive hosts, commonly dogs. Infected dogs shed tapeworm eggs in their feces.
  2. Intermediate Hosts (Humans and Herbivores): Humans become accidental intermediate hosts by ingesting tapeworm eggs. This can happen through contact with contaminated food, water, or soil.

Once ingested, the eggs hatch into larvae that migrate through the bloodstream, forming cysts in various organs, most commonly the liver and lungs.

Symptoms Of Hydatid Disease

  1. Asymptomatic Stage: Early stages of hydatid disease may progress without apparent symptoms, complicating early detection. Cysts can grow slowly, often without causing significant discomfort.
  2. Symptomatic Stage: As cysts enlarge, symptoms may manifest, including abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and the presence of a palpable mass in the abdomen. In cases involving the lungs, individuals may experience cough, chest pain, and breathing difficulties.
  3. Complications: If left untreated, hydatid cysts can lead to severe complications, such as cyst rupture, infection, and even anaphylaxis.

Diagnosis Of Echinococcosis

  1. Imaging Studies: Advanced imaging techniques including ultrasound, CT scans, and MRI, are instrumental in visualizing hydatid cysts within affected organs. These studies provide essential information about the size, location, and characteristics of the cysts.
  2. Serological Tests: Blood tests, such as Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA), play an important role in detecting specific antibodies produced in response to Echinococcus infection. These serological tests contribute to confirming the diagnosis.

Treatment Options

  1. Medical Treatment: Anti-parasitic medications, such as albendazole and mebendazole, are prescribed to impede the growth of hydatid cysts. This option is often considered for cases where surgery is not feasible or as a complementary measure.
  2. Surgical Intervention: The necessity for surgical removal of cysts depends on factors like size, location, and associated complications. Minimally invasive surgical techniques are increasingly employed for specific cases.
  3. Puncture-Aspiration-Injection-Re-Aspiration (PAIR): This procedure involves draining cyst fluid, injecting a scolicidal agent to eliminate larvae, and aspirating the contents. PAIR is particularly suitable for specific liver cysts.


  1. Hygiene Practices: Adhering to good hygiene practices, including thorough hand washing and proper food handling, significantly reduces the risk of ingesting tapeworm eggs.
  2. Avoiding Contact with Dogs: Given that dogs serve as definitive hosts for Echinococcus tapeworms, limiting contact with dogs and ensuring their regular deworming is important.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can hydatid disease be transmitted from person to person?

No, transmission typically occurs through a lifecycle involving definitive hosts (usually dogs) and intermediate hosts (humans).

Is hydatid disease geographically restricted?

While more prevalent in certain regions with close human-animal associations, hydatid disease is not strictly limited to specific geographical areas.

Can hydatid cysts recur after treatment?

Recurrence is possible, emphasizing the importance of regular follow-up appointments and continued monitoring post-treatment.

Can hydatid disease affect other organs besides the liver and lungs?

Yes. Although it is less common, hydatid cysts can affect organs such as the spleen, kidneys and brain.

Is there a vaccine for the prevention of hydatid disease?

Currently, there is no widely available vaccine for hydatid disease. Prevention primarily involves hygiene practices and avoiding contact with infected animals.


Hydatid disease requires careful consideration, like understanding it’s origins, recognizing symptoms and knowing it’s available treatments. With increased awareness, timely diagnosis, and appropriate intervention, the impact of hydatid disease can be mitigated. Public education on prevention measures remains paramount in reducing the prevalence of this parasitic infection, emphasizing the interconnectedness of human and animal health.