A tapeworm, never before found in Australian humans, has been reportedly removed from a three-year-old boy in South Australia.
Analysis at Murdoch University revealed the boy from the coastal town of Eyre Peninsula was infected with a Pacific Broad Tapeworm.
According to the university, the parasite is commonly found in fish-eating mammals, but has never been reported in Australians before now.
Various species of marine fish can act as intermediate hosts for the parasite, according to the university report.
The infection was believed to have occurred in the young boy as a result of him regularly eating raw marine fish caught by his father, as the child had never traveled outside Australia.
A university Centres for Disease Control and Prevention journal states the fish caught in the Spencer Gulf while recreational fishing, included southern bluefin tuna, spotted sillago, and southern goatfish.
The boy was diagnosed and treated last year, after his parents brought him into a clinic on July 29.
They noted the child had a poor appetite for about a month.
Tapeworm-like organisms were also found in his faeces over two days.
The child has since reportedly made a full recovery.
Murdoch University Emeritus Professor of Parasitology Andrew Thompson said the parasite was typically found in the Northern Hemisphere, so this case was significant.
“The organism has also been found in coastal waters of South America, southern Africa and Oceania, but to our knowledge, no human case has been reported from the Australian region to date,” he said.
“While symptoms are generally mild, and were not significant for this patient, our findings and reports from the last 90 years suggest these tapeworms are endemic in fish-eating mammals found off the Australian coast, and more human cases can be expected."
The type of tapeworm the toddler hosted is believed to be common and endemic in Scandinavian countries, however cases have also been reported in Peru and Chile.
Professor Thompson said climate change could be a factor in the parasite changing its geographical distribution.
“It is possible that temperate water currents off southern Australia are changing thus affecting the distribution of the fish hosts of the parasite,” he said.
“Our identification of the tapeworm also attests to Murdoch’s expertise in molecular parasitology and the flexibility of our diagnostic unit.”
In some cases a parasite being left untreated can lead to severe vitamin B12 deficiency due to the tapeworm consuming about 80 per cent of the host's intake. It can also cause diarrhoea and vomiting, however many incidents go without detection as many hosts experience no symptoms.
The infection is however treatable, as was the case of the South Australian boy.
Murdoch University says it expects there will be more human cases of the nutrient-stealing parasite and that people who eat raw marine fish are most at risk.
News break – August 11