The liver fluke is a large parasite which infects the liver where it can cause considerable damage. In Western countries, the only way in which the infection can be caught is through eating wild watercress. Most of the infections which affect humans are caused by tiny organisms like bacteria and viruses, some of which are so small that they can not be seen under an ordinary microscope. However, some much larger parasites can affect man and the liver fluke is one of them. Infections with the liver fluke are a serious health problem that can affect both humans and animals. In this post, we will examine the liver fluke symptoms treatment.
Understanding Liver Fluke:
What is Liver Fluke:
Liver flukes are leaf-shaped animals usually between 2-5 cm long and about 0.5-1.5 cm wide. Because of their complicated life-cycle, it is quite rare for them to infect humans. They are far more likely to infect sheep where they cause condition known as ‘liver rot’.
The sort of liver fluke which occurs in Western countries is called Fasciola Hepatica. Other flukes occur in different parts of the world, particularly in the East. They can also infect the intestine and Lungs.
Life Cycle of Liver Fluke:
Fasciola Hepatica liver flukes contain sexual organs of both sexes – they are hermaphrodites. They probably reproduce by cross-fertilization and once the eggs in an adult are fertilized a very complicated life cycle starts.
The eggs are released in capsules which have a toughened leathery exterior. They pass into the bile and out of the body of the primary host in the faces. They have to fall into water in order for the life cycle to continue.
Each egg capsule produces many small swimming larvae called miracidia. Amiracidium can only exist in the water for about 24 hours, during which time it has to find its way into the digestive system of a water snail or it will die. It does this by boring its way through the snail’s skin and then makes its way to the digestive tract.
Each miracidium contains a large number of ‘germ balls’ all of which can go on to develop into the next stage inside the snail. They become larvae called rediae. These are able to move about within the tissues of the snail. These also contain plentiful supply of germ balls which are capable of developing not only into more rediae but also into the next stage when they are called cercariae.
The cercariae leave the body of the snail and go back into the water where, with the aid of their prominent tail, they are able to swim to the vegetation lining the edge of the stream or pond. Here they stick to the vegetation and cover themselves with a protective coat or cyst so that they are able to remain alive for many months in moist conditions.
The final stage in this remarkable cycle occurs when the infected vegetation is eaten by an appropriate host, usually a sheep but occasionally man or some other animal. The cyst protects the cercariae from digestion by the stomach. Once in the small intestine, the cercarium or young liver fluke as it now is, is released from the cyst and it burrows its way through the wall of the intestine and into the abdominal cavity.
It then finds its way to the liver where it grows to the adult stage and the cycle continues.
Transmission of Liver Fluke:
Cattle, sheep and other herbivores become infected with liver flukes when they consume the vegetation containing cercariae migrate through the intestinal wall, entering the liver where they develop into adult liver flukes. These parasites can reside in the liver for years, causing damage in liver and even lead to many health issues.
Symptoms of Liver Fluke:
In sheep which are the main hosts, the parasite causes the condition called liver rot. In humans, the initial stages of infection with liver flukes do not produce many symptoms. However, as the flukes become established in the liver, they produce upper abdominal pain, enlargement of the liver and fever.
Later the patient may suffer from symptoms that result from blockage of the bile ducts by liver flukes or the inflammation they cause. This means that the patient may become jaundiced and suffer from upper abdominal pain again. This stage may take months or years.
If the disease becomes established the liver may be slowly destroyed, not only by the flukes which feed on the bile juices and sometimes the liver cells, but also by the inflammation and abscess cavities which can surround the eggs that may be lodged in the liver.
Tropical Liver Flukes:
Fasciola hepatica flukes are found in Europe, Russia and South America. Some of the flukes found in other parts of the world include other creatures as well as the water snail in the cycle. Some pass through fish, crabs or crayfish and humans can be infected by eating these.
The giant fluke which is found in the far East and can be up to 7 cm long includes lotus roots in its cycle and can cause infection when these are eaten.
Health Problems Caused by Liver Fluke:
Those who are infected with liver fluke may have indigestion, diarrhea and stomach pain. The efficient operation of the digestive system can be hampered by the presence of liver flukes.
When the liver is effected with liver fluke, jaundice can happen. Due to build up of bilirubin, a waste product that the liver typically processes, this causes yellowing of the skin and eyes.
Fatigue and Weakness:
Anemia and vitamin shortages brought on by liver fluke infections can result in weariness, weakness and general health fall.
Itching, rashes and other skin problems can sometimes be brought on by an allergic reaction to the proteins of the parasites.
Prevention and Treatment:
Prevention is all important in this case. Man can only be infected by eating pond-side plants and the only one likely to be eaten in Western countries is wild watercress, so if you avoid this you are unlikely to suffer the disease. Commercially grown watercress is carefully protected from possible infection.
The danger of infection can be decreased by ensuring good cleanliness in farms and agricultural activities. Human infection can also be avoided by thoroughly cleaning produce and avoiding the eating of uncooked aquatic plants.
Treatment is with a drug called emetine. As this effects the heart and kidneys the treatment has to be carefully monitored. Unfortunately, it is not always effective at eliminating the flukes. Surgery is sometimes necessary to treat abscesses that can occur in the liver. The outlook for people with the disease is variable. It could produce only trivial symptoms or it could progress to serious liver disease.
it is crucial to get medical assistance as soon as possible if you feel any signs and symptoms of liver fluke infection. A medical expert will perform diagnostic procedures and make recommendations for the best course of action, which may include antiparasitic drugs.
Although liver fluke infection is not very much known to people, it has profound influence on both animal and human health. We can actively reduce the risks caused by these parasites if we know the liver fluke symptoms treatment. Although the liver fluke can cause severe health hazards, improved health hygiene habits, healthy lifestyle and public awareness are the best options to deal with liver fluke infections.
Frequently Asked Questions on Liver Fluke Symptoms Treatment:
Q. How does the liver fluke stay in the liver?
Ans: The liver fluke not only has a mouth but also has a thing called a ventral sucker which enables it to fasten itself to the tissues. It almost certainly moves about inside the liver tissues – feeding inside the smaller bile ducts when it is hungry and moving back into the big ducts or gall bladder when it is full.
Q. Is it possible to do a blood test to see if someone has a liver fluke?
Ans: There are not specific blood tests which show up a liver fluke. However, any worm or similar parasite causes an increase in a special sort of white blood cell called the eosinophil. A simple count of eosinophils in the blood often gives a clue that some parasite is present. It is also possible to do a skin test for the liver fluke where material prepared from adult flukes produces an obvious reaction when injected into the skin of an infected person.
Q. Is it possible to catch a liver fluke directly from a sheep?
Ans: In general, no. Certainly in the UK and Europe, it does not happen. However, in some parts of the Middle East you can get an unpleasant condition called ‘halzoun’ from eating heavily infected goat or sheep flesh. So this should be avoided. This is definitely one of those cases when you should not try any gastronomic adventures.
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