The territories inhabited by people and foxes increasingly overlap, and that's no problem at all for the foxes. As well as berries, fallen fruit, mice and insects, foxes also feed on our food and our waste. But the urban fox isn't always alone on its forays through our towns. It can carry an unpleasant passenger: the fox tapeworm.
What is a fox tapeworm?
The adult tapeworms live in the small intestine of the fox and are also occasionally found in dogs. The eggs of the fox tapeworm are excreted with the animal's faeces, survive for months and can therefore contaminate raw food or drinking water. In most cases, people become infected by eating raw vegetables grown close to the ground in their own gardens or through direct contact with infected animals or their faeces.
Fox tapeworm infection
The fox tapeworm larvae develop in the small intestine of the infected person and spread through the blood to the liver (also to other organs in some rare cases). Cysts form there and have an adverse effect on the organ in question. The illness is identified from the damage it does to the affected organ, but sometimes only after months or years. Fox tapeworm infections can be controlled in most cases if they are detected and treated early (surgical removal of the parasites plus medication). In the worst-case scenario, a fox tapeworm infection can be fatal.
In Switzerland, there is no requirement to report fox tapeworm infections. For this reason, the Federal Office of Public Health FOPH
(information page in German and French) does not provide precise information on the number of new cases. However, the FOPH estimates that there are approximately 10 to 20 cases each year.
How can I protect myself?
Dr Silke Schmitt Oggier, Medical Director at santé24 advises: "You should be careful when eating berries, leaves or mushrooms picked close to the ground". The FOPH recommends that forest fruits as well as vegetables, leaves and berries from your own garden should be washed thoroughly or even cooked before consumption. Deep-freezing these foods does not help because the eggs are not killed off by a temperature of minus 20 degrees. Always use a plastic glove or bag when touching fox or dog faeces and put them in the rubbish immediately. Wash your hands thoroughly following contact with a dog or fox and after working in the garden.
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