Wild garlic, wild strawberries, mushrooms: the tapeworm really is that dangerous

Author: Benita Wintermantel | Category: health and medicines | 15.05.2022

Wild strawberries are often suspected of transmitting fox tapeworm.

Foto: Shutterstock / nnattalli

The first wild strawberries are shining in the forest. But are we allowed to eat them? Isn’t the fox tapeworm lurking there? Here is the current state of science on the danger of fox tapeworm.

Sweet wild strawberries, more aromatic wild garlic and woodruff, self-collected mushrooms: From April to November, meadows and forests have a number of delicacies in store that we like to collect and even better eat. With the beginning of the berry season, however, the fear of the fox tapeworm grows: are we even allowed to put the sweet fruit directly in our mouths? What is the risk of tapeworm infection? How can I protect myself? And how do I know if I’m affected?

Scientists agree: one Infection can become life-threateningbut it is for most of us very unlikely. But it is also a fact: the number of foxes is increasing and “Master Reineke” is getting closer and closer to humans. Caution, but please do not panic, is the motto.

What happens when you get infected with fox tapeworm?

The fox tapeworm (Echinococcus multilocularis) is two to four millimeters long Parasiteits most important definitive host of the fox is. Anyone who ingests the eggs excreted by the definitive host and then forms larvae (fins) becomes the intermediate host for the tapeworm. Typical intermediate hosts are mice, rats, beavers – and humans as dead or blind hosts. The fox tapeworm cycle completes when the intermediate host is eaten by its definitive host. The larvae then develop in the definitive host’s intestine into an adult, sexually mature tapeworm that produces infectious eggs.

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Foxes in the garden: Statistically, it is very unlikely to contract fox tapeworm.

Foxes in the garden: Statistically, it is very unlikely to contract fox tapeworm. (Photo: Shutterstock / Chedko)

What Makes Fox Tapeworm Infection So Dangerous?

Humans can become infected with the parasite by ingesting the microscopic eggs excreted in fox faeces.

An infection becomes dangerous when the so-called fin tissue spreads like a tumor in the human organs. The cancer-like growths, which can grow to several centimeters, gradually destroy the organs. The fin tissue mostly affects the Leberbut lungs, brain or bones can also be affected.

fall ill annually In Germany, 20 to 30 people have an Echinococcus infection, making it a very rare but serious and life-threatening disease. The chances of recovery have improved in recent years, but infection can lead to fatal liver failure.

Symptoms of fox tapeworm infection

Diagnosing an infestation is difficult: the infection usually runs painlessly and without any symptoms for ten to 15 years. The symptoms that appear many years after infection are extremely non-specific:

  • exhaustion
  • epigastric pain
  • jaundice
  • weight loss
  • enlarged liver
The taller berries grow, the lower the risk of fox tapeworm infection.

The taller berries grow, the lower the risk of fox tapeworm infection. (Photo: Shutterstock / Only_NewPhoto)

How can you get infected with fox tapeworm?

The exact transmission routes are not yet known in detail, explain scientists University of Wuerzburg. The reason: Since there are many years between infection and diagnosis, it is usually no longer possible to understand how the infected got infected. “So far, however, there is no clear evidence that collecting and eating berries or mushrooms increases the risk of infection,” according to the Professional Association of German Internists (BDI).

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How can you protect yourself from fox tapeworm?

According to the Bavarian State Office for Health and Food Safety (LGL) microscopically small, extremely cold-resistant, but only slightly resistant to heat and dehydration. Under our climatic conditions, they remained infectious for months.

Since too little is known about the routes of infection, it is important to be cautious:

  • When a fox visits the garden, the fox droppings should be collected, preferably with an upside-down plastic bag, advises the LGL.
  • Washing forest fruits (berries, herbs, mushrooms) and fallen fruit reduces the risk, but does not completely eliminate it.
  • Briefly boiling berries, mushrooms or herbs is enough to kill the eggs.
  • Freezing, disinfecting or soaking in alcohol will not kill the pathogen. Only at a temperature of -80°C for several days is it rendered harmless.
  • Let the droppings of dogs and…

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