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In southern Chile, dogs and people are facing a resurgence of parasitic disease after the government canceled a longstanding deworming program. In an article for UC Davis, Kat Kerlin describes how one study is showing the detriment of canceling the program.
A successful deworming program, prematurely canceled
Commonly known as tapeworms, canine echinococcosis is a highly infectious disease that transmits between livestock and canines. Beginning in 1978, Chile’s deworming program made great progress in controlling the spread of infection in Tierra del Fuego. Initially, disease prevalence sat around 68.4 percent. However, by 2002 that rate dropped to an astounding 1.2 percent. Recently, a study published in Zoonoses and Public Health discovered that these rates are beginning to shoot up. Alarmingly, the study found that — as of 2016 — disease rates rose back up to 6.9 percent.
According to corresponding author Marcela Uhart, the study shows “a persistent risk of echinococcosis in domestic dogs…in Tierra del Fuego.”
Notably, Uhart is the director of the Latin America program at UC Davis’ One Health Institute. Additionally, Uhart says the study’s findings underline “ the need to reestablish Chile’s program to prevent this disease’s reemergence as a significant public health concern.”
Parasites are a threat to the local economy and wildlife
Unfortunately, in southern Chile, sheepherding is a primary economic activity. As such, working dogs are essential tools of the trade. Sheep are also a host for canine echinococcosis. Not surprisingly, the study found that the prevalence of disease was higher where deworming in dogs was infrequent. Furthermore, researchers found links between disease rates and the number of sheep, the frequency of slaughter, and dogs eating internal sheep viscera.
Interestingly, all canine species on the islands are possible hosts, including native culpeo foxes. Considering this, Alejandro Vila, another coauthor, says, “ it is important to develop an ethical program to manage [wildlife] and reduce the potential spread of…pathogens that can affect both human and wildlife health on the island.” Gravely, human infection with tapeworms can lead to hydatid disease, which can prove to be fatal if untreated.
Fortunately, the study provides strong evidence that canceling the deworming program was a mistake. Hopefully, the Chilean government will act quickly to re-implement the program and protect both human and dog lives. However, any delay could have catastrophic effects on the region, both medically and economically.
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