Looking for tapeworm in Alaska

Friday 28 Apr 2017

The snow covered landscape of Alaska is a world away from the Australian bush but that's where Charles Sturt University (CSU) researcher Dr David Jenkins is sharing his expertise in parasites in wildlife.

Dr Jenkins is a member of the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation at Wagga Wagga and has been working in Alaska as part of a push to raise awareness of hydatid disease and control in native communities.


"Hydatid disease is serious and potentially fatal condition in humans which occurs when tapeworm eggs cause cysts in vital organs such as the liver and lungs," Dr Jenkins said.

"People get infected with tapeworm eggs from contact with the faeces of an infected dog. In Alaska, just as in Australia, wildlife plays a key role in the lifecycle of this parasite.

"In Australia we see foxes, dingoes and kangaroos affected by the tapeworm, while in Alaska it's foxes, wolves, moose and caribu.

"The disease was identified as a problem in native Alaskan communities in the 1950s as people were infected through domestic dogs that had been fed offal infected with hydatid cysts.

"Control efforts focussing on the importance of de-worming domestic dogs were successful but now there's a push from the Alaska Tribal Health Consortium to understand more about the current status of infection with hydatid cysts and hydatid tapeworms in wildlife."

During a 17-day visit, Dr Jenkins gave seminars and workshops at the veterinary school at the University of Alaska in the city of Fairbanks.

"I was asked to share my experience and run a series of workshops with staff, students and the public dissecting a number of species of wildlife to identify tapeworm infection," Dr Jenkins said.

"Although Alaska and Australia are a world apart there's much to be gained from sharing knowledge across international borders and I'm hopeful this will lead to further collaboration to better understand an issue that has significant public health impacts."

Dr Jenkins is a senior research fellow at CSU's School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences and his current research focuses on mapping the distribution of the hydatid tapeworm in rural, semi-rural and suburban domestic dogs in south eastern Australia.

The Graham Centre is an alliance between CSU and the NSW Department of Primary Industries.


Media contact: Bruce Andrews, (02) 6338 6084

Media Note:

Dr David Jenkins is based in Wagga Wagga. For interviews contact Graham Centre communications officer Ms Emily Malone (02) 6933 4401.