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Liver Fluke – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

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What is a Liver Fluke?

Liver flukes are groups of parasites that infect the liver and produce liver dysfunction. The most common parasite is Fasciola hepatica; they infest humans and various mammals such as cows and sheep. This parasite is often in countries where cattle and sheep are raised. The adult flukes are localized in the liver, but they also appear in the bile ducts, and gallbladder, and liver parenchyma. These flukes survive by sucking blood out from their host, leaving them infected and ill. In addition, these adult flukes produce eggs that are being passed on to the intestine, usually the duodenum where food absorption occurs.


Liver Fluke Symptoms

The common symptoms seen in a person infected by a liver fluke are as follows:

  • Weight loss – The liver produces bile and other substances that are essential to the proper digestion of food. If the liver is infected by these flukes, then the liver would not be able to produce the right amount of these substances anymore, altering the balance the body needs.
  • Anemia – increased number of white blood cells secondary to infection.
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomachache
  • Reduced fertility
  • Death – this occurs in more severe cases

Liver Fluke Causes

To understand it more clearly, here is a simple layout of the life cycle of the parasite Fasciola hepatic. This female organism lays eggs in the liver of the infected host. Immature eggs are being released from the body through the feces. However, although immature eggs as they are, you would find it more surprising how in its immaturity they can become more dangerous. These immature parasites might land on bodies of water. Once they find home in the waters, they become embryonated and grow into larvae called miracidia. This transformation is about nine days with a minimal temperature of 22 to 26 degrees. Because miracidia has a short life span, it will then invade aquatic snails and will develop into cercaria. The cercaria then migrates to a broader aquatic environment and will form a cyst called metacercaria. In this form, it is now much bigger and more capable of infesting more aquatic organisms. Chances are, humans will then consume some of these freshwater plants, wherein these parasites will stay in the small intestine, particularly in the duodenum. It will find a way to get out of the intestine and into the peritoneal cavity until it reaches the liver, eating the liver cells. That then how they can have debilitating effects to the infected human.

Liver Fluke Treatment

Before proper treatment can be administered to the patient, a thorough examination is appropriate. Usually the diagnosis of a fluke infection is based on the history of the patient. The usual specimens used to establish the diagnosis are stool and fluid sample which are sent to the laboratory for analysis. Blood tests and imaging techniques such as CT scan and ultrasound can be very helpful in strengthening the diagnosis because it would give a more reliable way in identifying the parasite. There have been various medications used in the treatment of fluke infections; among which are triclabendazole, praziquantel, bithionol, albendazole, and mebendazole. These medications are of course given in different days and in different phases of the infection. It is very important to take these drugs with the right prescription from the physician.

In the case of cattle and sheep, the use of flukocides is found very effective in the prevention of fluke invasion among cattle and sheep.

Since the common cause of infection of the parasite Fasciola hepatica is food-borne, it can be prevented by taking into consideration the food that we eat every day. For farmers breeding cattle, pasture rotation is considered effective as this will lessen the likelihood for cattle to in grazing the snail habitats, which are known to be the usual host of once immature liver flukes and evolved into much more dangerous organisms ready to infect vulnerable cattle and humans again.

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