Echinococcus multilocularis in Belgium: prevalence in red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and in different species of potential intermediate hosts

Vet Parasitol. 2008 Feb 14;151(2-4):212-7. doi: 10.1016/j.vetpar.2007.09.024.


Echinococcus multilocularis causes a rare but potentially lethal zoonotic infection in humans. This tapeworm is known to be endemic in foxes in several countries of Western and Central Europe. In Western Europe, the common vole (Microtus arvalis) and the water vole (Arvicola terrestris) are considered to be the most important intermediate host species of this cestode whereas the red fox is by far the most important final host. The purpose of this study was to provide data on the prevalences in Wallonia (Southern part of Belgium) both in the red fox and in different potential intermediate hosts. A total of 990 red foxes were examined between January 2003 and December 2004 for the presence of E. multilocularis. The average prevalence was 24.55% (22.38-27.87). Out of 1249 rodents or insectivores belonging to the species Apodemus sylvaticus, Arvicola terrestris, Clethrionomys glareolus, Microtus arvalis, Microtus agrestris and Sorex araneus, only one M. arvalis (out of 914-0.11% (0.003-0.61) and one C. glareolus (out of 23-4.3% (0.1-21.9) were found to be infected. However, the muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) seems to be a good intermediate host as 11.18% (9.72-12.76) of the animals (n=1718) were found to be infected. A positive correlation was found between the prevalences in foxes and in muskrats in each of the different geological regions. This study indicates that the muskrat is highly sensitive to this zoonotic tapeworm and could perhaps represent a good bioindicator when studying the epidemiology of this parasitic infection in Belgium and in other countries where the muskrat is present.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arvicolinae / parasitology
  • Belgium / epidemiology
  • Echinococcosis / epidemiology
  • Echinococcosis / parasitology
  • Echinococcosis / veterinary*
  • Echinococcus multilocularis / isolation & purification*
  • Female
  • Foxes / parasitology*
  • Geography
  • Helminthiasis, Animal / epidemiology*
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Zoonoses