Liver fluke: Symptoms and treatment

Liver flukes are parasites that can cause disease in humans and some animals. Liver flukes cannot be spread from person to person. Instead, people and animals get infected with liver flukes by eating contaminated fish or drinking contaminated water. People can only become infected by drinking water or eating fish from places where liver flukes live.

Once contracted, liver flukes may live in a person's body for 20 to 30 years if left untreated. People most commonly get infected with liver flukes through the following ways:

  • consuming freshwater fish infested with the flukes (sushi)
  • eating freshwater vegetables, such as watercress
  • drinking contaminated water
  • washing vegetables or fruits with contaminated water

There are two types of liver flukes that can infect people: Fasciola hepatica and Fasciola gigantica.

A person may have liver flukes living in them and never develop fascioliasis. Others may develop fascioliasis many years after the liver flukes entered their body.

A person may never know they have liver flukes. Some doctors may not diagnose the condition because the symptoms of fascioliasis are similar to many other conditions. Unlike some other parasites and diseases, a person cannot pass liver flukes accidentally to someone else.

Individuals who do develop symptoms may experience some or all of the following:

  • Pain in the upper right abdomen
  • Nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting
  • Weight loss and a lack of appetite
  • Hives
  • Fever
  • Malaise

It may be difficult to determine if a person has liver flukes. A doctor will take a stool sample to run tests that find the eggs.

A medication called triclabendazole is commonly used to treat a liver fluke infection, as this effectively kills the liver flukes and their eggs.

A person can help prevent a liver fluke infection by:

  • cooking all vegetables grown near cattle and sheep
  • cooking animal livers and not consuming them raw
  • boiling all untreated water
  • not drinking water directly from a stream near where cattle and sheep live

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