The below photos are gruesome but importantly relevant to residents and hunters in the Northern Rocky Mountain region, as well as all regions of this country where wild canines exist. These photos were taken of the lungs from an elk that was recently killed during an elk hunt, archery I believe, somewhere just northeast of Lewiston. A layman’s examination of the photos certainly leads one to believe this bull elk’s lungs are densely infected with tumors, probably hydatid cysts, a condition that occurs when elk and other ungulates, as well as humans, become infected through ingestion of the tiny echinococcus granulosus eggs.
Once discovered by the hunter who harvested the elk, the lungs were taken to a nearby Idaho Fish and Game office. The person was told the lungs would be sent to a lab for testing. Results are not yet available.
It was discovered approximately 5 years ago that around 60% of all gray wolves tested in the Northern Rocky Mountain area carried tapeworms indicating the existence of echinococcus granulosus. Wolves and other canines, wild and domestic, that are infected, drop there worm-laced feces on the ground where the tiny spore-like eggs are transmitted to such things as grazing animals, animals or humans passing by that may disturb the scat, etc. These eggs, often thousands of them, can end up in water supplies, berry patches, and be brought home by unleashed dogs and pets. From here the eggs can easily be transmitted to humans and inadvertently ingested in sometimes unimaginable ways. The threat is serious.
There are officially recorded cases in Idaho of humans with hydatid cysts in their organs. Treatment is difficult at best and sometimes deadly to humans. Detection is difficult compounded with the fact that doctors are seldom looking for this disease. Often it is not discovered until some kind of heavy blow to a persons abdomen ruptures a cyst causing great pain. A rupture of this kind could cause an allergic reaction, an anaphylactic shock, that could be deadly. Removal of the cysts is difficult faced with the same threats of rupturing a cyst causing the further spread of hundreds or thousands of eggs.
I have read inaccurate accounts from people that these cysts do not pose any kind of threat to our wildlife and in particular ungulates like deer, elk and moose. Certainly, upon examination of these photos, can one expect that this bull elk has the lung capacity in his wild habitat to escape danger from large predators such as mountain lions and wolves?
The questions that we are seeing and hearing from hunters and citizens observing these photos, tell us that it appears people have become aware of the existence of this disease. It also tells us we need to do a better job of educating the public of the dangers, how they can reduce those dangers and what precautions need to be taken in handling the meat and what to do with the offal. This is where state government should stop stonewalling this phenomenon and get with the program. It might save a life or two.
This website contains numerous articles on hydatid disease, echinococcus granulosus, facts, tips, and just about all the information you need to know. Please follow this link and begin a research into a better understanding of this dreaded disease.
Thank you goes out to a reader who emailed me the photos and to the hunter that took the elk and photos and is willing to share that information.