What can be infected by Echinococcus multilocularis?
Foxes and dogs can get infected with this parasite by ingesting infected faeces or rodents. Once they are infected they usually do not display any symptoms but they can transmit the parasite. Humans can become infected via the oral route via contaminated hands after handling infected foxes/canines, contaminated plants, soil or berries.
After infection it usually takes a long time (10-15 years) for the disease (alveolar echinococcosis) to develop in humans, which is characterised by liver failure and can ultimately be fatal. Currently the British Isles, including Northern Ireland are believed to free of this parasite but it is known to be common in continental Europe.
DAERA currently conducts a survey in which fox carcasses are collected and thereafter examined by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) for the presence of this parasite. This survey allows DAERA to maintain import requirements on animals to prevent Echinococcus multilocularis from entering Northern Ireland.
To remain on the list of Echinococcus free countries, Northern Ireland, along with the rest of the UK, Ireland, Malta and Finland have to conduct surveillance on foxes as outlined above and report the findings to the European Commission once a year.
Anyone reporting a dead fox that can be used for the survey is asked to contact DAERA, on 028 77442399 (Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm) with an answering service available outside these hours, or email RTAbadger@daera-ni.gov.uk.