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Cystic echinococcosis in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic

  • R. L. RAUSCH (a1)

The northern biotype of Echinococcus granulosus occurs throughout the holarctic zones of tundra and taiga, from eastern Fennoscandia to the Bering Strait in Eurasia and in North America from arctic Alaska approximately to the northern border of the United States. The cycle of the cestode is complex in taiga at lower latitudes, because of the greater diversity of potential hosts. In the Arctic and Subarctic, however, four patterns of predator/prey relationships may be discerned. Two natural cycles involve the wolf and wild reindeer and the wolf and elk (moose), respectively. Where deer of the two species coexist, both are prey of the wolf; the interactions of the wolf and elk are here described on the basis of long-term observations made on Isle Royale (in Lake Superior near the southern limit of taiga), where only the wolf and elk serve as hosts for E. granulosus. A synanthropic cycle involving herding-dogs and domesticated reindeer caused hyperendemicity of cystic echinococcosis in arctic Eurasia, mainly in northeastern Siberia. The 4th pattern, a semi-synanthropic cycle, formerly existed in Alaska, wherein sled-dogs of the indigenous hunters became infected by consuming the lungs of wild reindeer. The sequence of changes in life-style inherent in the process of acculturation affected the occurrence of cystic echinococcosis among nomadic Iñupiat in arctic Alaska. When those people became sedentary, the environs of their early villages soon became severely contaminated by faeces of dogs, and cases of cystic echinococcosis occurred. Compared to cystic echinococcosis caused by E. granulosus adapted to synanthropic hosts (dog and domestic ungulates), the infection produced by the northern biotype is relatively benign. Nearly all diagnosed cases of cystic echinococcosis (>300) in Alaska have occurred in indigenous people; only one fatality has been recorded (in a non-indigenous person). After sled-dogs were replaced by machines, cases have become rare in Alaska. A similar effect has been observed in Fennoscandia, in the Saami and domesticated reindeer. Recent records indicate that the prevalence of cystic echinococcosis is increasing in Russia, suggesting that dogs are used there in herding.

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