Transmission of the fox tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis, the causative agent of human alveolar echinococcosis, is known to depend on various environmental factors which are subject to human influence. Epidemiological data suggest that in most endemic regions anthropogenic landscape changes (e.g. deforestation and agricultural practices) have led to more favourable conditions for the parasite's animal hosts, especially arvicolid rodents, thereby increasing the risk for parasite transmission and human disease. Examples are the conversion of forests or crop fields into meadows and pastures in Europe, China and North America, and overgrazing of natural grassland in central Asia. Other anthropogenic factors include interference with host population densities by wildlife disease control, changing hunting pressure and provision of new habitats, e.g. in urban areas. Domestic dogs may, under certain conditions, get involved in the otherwise largely wildlife-based transmission, and thereby greatly increase the infection pressure to humans. The introduction of neozootic host species may increase transmission, or even initiate the parasite's life-cycle in previously non-endemic regions. Lastly, the parasite itself may be accidentally introduced into non-endemic areas, if suitable host populations are present (e.g. in northern Japan).
(Accepted January 20 2006)