Echinostomiasis: a common but forgotten food-borne disease.

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  • 1 Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, School of Hygiene and Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland 21205, USA.

Human echinostomiasis, endemic to southeast Asia and the Far East, is a food-borne, intestinal, zoonotic parasitosis attributed to at least 16 species of digenean trematodes transmitted by snails. Two separate life cycles of echinostomes, human and sylvatic, efficiently operate in endemic areas. Clinical symptoms of echinostomiasis include abdominal pain, violent watery diarrhea, and anorexia. The disease occurs focally and transmission is linked to fresh or brackish water habitats. Infections are associated with common sociocultural practices of eating raw or insufficiently cooked mollusks, fish, crustaceans, and amphibians, promiscuous defecation, and the use of night soil (human excrement collected from latrines) for fertilization of fish ponds. The prevalence of infection ranges from 44% in the Philippines to 5% in mainland China, and from 50% in northern Thailand to 9% in Korea. Although the patterns of other food-borne trematodiases have changed in Asia following changes in habits, cultural practices, health education, industrialization, and environmental alteration, human echinostomiasis remains a health problem. The disease is most prevalent in remote rural places among low-wage earners and in women of child bearing age. Echinostomiasis is aggravated by socioeconomic factors such as poverty, malnutrition, an explosively growing free-food market, a lack of supervised food inspection, poor or insufficient sanitation, other helminthiases, and declining economic conditions. Furthermore, World Health Organization control programs implemented for other food-borne helminthiases and sustained in endemic areas are not fully successful for echinostomiasis because these parasites display extremely broad specificity for the second intermediate host and are capable of completing the life cycle without involvement of the human host.