Occurrence of a parasite in urban coyotes in Alberta with potential public health concerns

Echinococcus multilocularis, a parasitic tapeworm that is the causative agent of Human Alveolar Echinococcosis (HAE), a potentially fatal disease in humans, has been detected in urban coyotes in Alberta.

Among North American carnivores, the coyote (Canis latrans) represents a species that has adapted very well to urbanization and the associated landscape changes. Coyotes can thrive in cities because they can successfully utilize natural and anthropogenic resources.

In North America, Echinococcus has already been reported in rural canids (coyotes, arctic and red foxes), but it has been only recently documented in an urban area. The work is part of a study lead by Dr. Alessandro Massolo at the University of Calgary, Department of Ecosystem & Public Health and the Alberta-CCWHC.

Parasitological examination for Echinococcus multilocularis in coyote carcasses from the Metropolitan Area of Calgary found 21.7% to be infected.  Current research in Dr. Massolo’s lab is designed to understand whether E. multilocularis can actually complete its entire life-cycle within urban habitats. The life cycle  involves the coyote as the definitive host and rodents, such as deer mouse and meadow voles as intermediate hosts. Based on a preliminary field data, these rodent species are the most abundant in Calgary’s urban Parks, and could represent the source of infection not only for coyotes but for domestic dogs as well.

This important project will provide a better understanding of the disease and help to monitor a pathogen that is a potential public health concern. It will also provide landscape planners and managers with information necessary for intervention strategies aimed to reduce and manage transmission risk.

Related Links:  Calgary Urban Coyotes Ecology Project

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