I suppose much of the reactions from people about the announcement that wolves in the Idaho, Montana and into Canada regions are infested with worms that can spread hydatid disease, is fueled by the existing and ongoing emotional battle over how best to manage the canines in this region.

Anyone, including myself, who supports a more aggressive approach to limiting (I didn’t say elimination) wolf populations, who attempts to bring to light this public health issue, gets chastised for instilling fear in people because I hate wolves.

We’ve been down this road before and those who read my blog know that isn’t true. So let’s make an effort to dispense with the false accusations and more importantly, let’s not brush off this information as non factual and/or something we don’t need to concern ourselves with.

Dr. Valerius Geist began signaling a small alarm bell when he began reading about what he called, “cavalier attitude[s] towards the disease”. In an email sent to a handful of concerned outdoor sportsmen, Geist says:

The people and contra machinations pertaining to wolves are of little concern here. What is important is that people living or recreating in areas with hydatid disease take precautions, while steps have to be undertaken to eradicate the disease.

Geist’s concern about “cavalier attitudes” came because game officials and news agencies in infected areas was seriously playing it down. It is important to note that Dr. Geist makes the point that the precautions we should take are especially true in known infected areas.

Because the tiny eggs, liberated by the millions in carnivore feces, are dispersed even by tiny air currents, it is important for reasons of personal health not to poke or kick such feces. It will usually be dry. It will then liberate clouds of tape worm eggs and this cloud of eggs will settle on your clothing, your exposed skin, in your sinuses and wind pipe, on your lips and if you inhale through the mouth in your oral cavity. If you lick your lips, the eggs will get into your oral cavity. When sinuses and windpipe clear themselves of inhaled particles with your sputum the eggs will get into your mouth and be swallowed with sputum. If you touch the feces or even poke it chances are the cloud of tiny eggs will also settle on your hands, and may contaminate the food you handle or eat.

People with dogs are at risk because their dogs may feed unbeknown to them on carcasses or gut piles of big game infected with that disease, infecting themselves with dog tape worm. These dogs will defecate in kennels and yards, spreading these tiny eggs. They will also lick their anus and fur spreading the eggs into their fur. The eggs will cling to boots and be carried indoor, where they float about till they settle down as dust. Now everybody is at risk of infection, especially toddlers crawling around on the floor. Putty cats can also be involved.

Dr. Geist consulted with a game biologist colleague in Finland who is studying hydatid disease as there have been outbreaks there due to the increased population of wolves. Kaarlo Nygrén, Game and Fisheries Research Institute, expresses that Dr. Geist is accurate in his observations and says he is not exaggerating in his concerns about the disease. Nygren shares his homeland’s concern about the disease.

I am afraid it will not only affect our staple food and essential part of our heritage, moose, but also us directly. Hunters, dog owners, forest workers, berry and mushroom pickers will indeed be in danger. I agree in all you told in your paper; none of it is exaggeration.

Nygren recalls the last outbreak of the disease occurred in the 60s and 70s in Northern Lapland. The wolf population had grown and brought with it the worms. The reindeer were being destroyed from the disease. All means were used to drastically reduce the population of wolves; from aerial gunning with machine guns to public service announcement teaching people the best ways to kill wolves and deal with the disease.

The latest outbreak is now affecting Finland’s moose.

The moose was almost hairless (for a reason we were unable to confirm) but it had hydatid cysts in many organs, particularly lungs. I sampled the contents by injection needle and in a droplet placed on an objective glass, thousands of things like miniature human skulls with sharp teeth (my first impression!)were seen. This was the first case of E.granulosus for me. I have seen thousands of Taenia cysts in our moose after opening thousands of carcasses but this was something else.

Evidently the worms have been spread by wolves into Sweden.

Keeping wolf populations in check is only part of the equation. The disease has to be eradicated and Dr. Geist suggests the possibility of burning big game winter ranges to kill the eggs and/or beginning a program of establishing medicated bait piles to target certain packs known to be infected.

This isn’t fear mongering or trying to use scare tactics to support anyone’s agenda. This is knowledge everyone who goes into the outdoors or has pets, needs to know. It is extremely important to be aware of this if you know you are living in or being exposed to infected areas. If you don’t know, contact your state’s fish and game department. If they are not testing wolves and/or coyotes in your area, insist that they begin doing so and spread the word to your friends.

Again, this isn’t about killing wolves and coyotes, it’s about keeping you, your children, your pets, your livestock and wildlife healthy. Who can argue with that?

Tom Remington