In Belgium, the carriage of Echinococcus multilocularis by the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) can be very high in some areas. This study was designed to evaluate the carriage of the larval form of E. multilocularis and other cestodes in a musk rat (Ondatra zibethicus) population trapped along the Ourthe River (southeastern Belgium). Six hundred fifty-seven musk rats were necropsied, and the larval cestodes of the abdominal and pleural cavities were identified. For E. multilocularis, the fertility of the cysts was verified in 58 liver samples. The following species were found: Taenia taeniaeformis (65.8%), Taenia martis (22.2%), E. multilocularis (22.1%), Taenia polyacantha (2.6%), and Taenia crassiceps (0.9%). Results were analyzed according to the site of capture (upper, middle, and lower Ourthe). There was a highly significant relationship between the carriage of E. multilocularis and the site of capture (the prevalence being higher in the upper part of the river). This difference could be due to different geoclimatic conditions. All but one hepatic lesion were found to contain protoscoleces of E. multilocularis (98.8%). The musk rat is probably infected through the consumption of plant material contaminated by the fox's feces. The red fox can occasionally prey on musk rats, but the musk rat cadavers that are left on the river banks by the trappers are probably also consumed. This could favor the maintenance of E. multilocularis life cycle. In conclusion, the musk rat seems to be highly susceptible to E. multilocularis and in Belgium could play the role of reservoir; when present this species could represent an inexpensive and sensitive bioindicator for the study and monitoring of the zoonosis.
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Vol. 45 • No. 2