Liver flukes are common in specific regions and reportedly affect 2.4 million individuals across 70 international countries. So, the chances of being infected with one could vary depending on where you are based.
Regardless, liver flukes can substantially impact your health and lead to serious illness if not treated promptly. That’s why it’s essential to do so, and more than anything, to recognize and act on the symptoms as early as possible.
This article will run through the life cycle of liver flukes, the health implications of being infected with one, and prevention measures that will help you identify liver fluke infections and promptly return you to a healthy life.
Understanding Liver Flukes
What Are Liver Flukes?
In short, liver flukes are parasitic worms that commonly transmit themselves to humans via undercooked freshwater fish, watercress, and even sheep and cattle.
While they are generally more common in animals, they can affect humans, too, particularly those who work with sheep and cattle. They can migrate from these animals to humans and cause significant issues if left untreated.
Living in the United States, it is rare to experience a liver fluke infection unless you have traveled or regularly travel to countries with a higher risk, including Cambodia, Vietnam, Germany, Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Laos and Thailand. Similarly, if you work with cattle and sheep, you might be at a higher risk.
Two kinds of flatworms will impact the liver: hepatica and Fasciola gigantica. They are particularly tricky to catch because those infected are often symptomless.
Types of Liver Flukes
The fasciola is commonly known as the sheep liver fluke and comes as the hepatica or fasciola gigantica. These are found all around the world, with the exception of Antarctica.
While generally found in sheep and cattle, eating raw watercress and various other water-based plants increases the risk of being infected by them.
Infesting Asia and Europe, Opisthorchiasis is the source of an opisthorchis infection. The symptoms associated with an infection are not exclusive to opisthorchiasis and include nondescript reactions such as indigestion and digestive upset.
More severely, the condition can cause abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea.
This form will likely be contracted in Asia via raw crabs, raw fish, crayfish and raw crabs. They cause clonorchis infections.
Life Cycle of Liver Flukes
First, the food-borne liver fluke is birthed via the bile duct of adult flukes and then via this fluke’s feces. They may not make it further than this cycle, but if they come into contact with water, they are embryonated and turn into miracidia, their larval stage.
Next, they infest snails. During this time, they turn from the miracidia form into cercaria larvae. This is their next form, involving a tail, allowing them to swim.
Eventually, the parasite exits the snail in search of vegetation. Here, it becomes a cyst. It is now infectious and protected by a tough exterior layer, expanding their lives.
Due to the water environment, they latch onto the fish or reside in it, putting humans and animals at risk. They drink the toxic water where they live or catch and eat the freshwater fish, and the cysts release their eggs into the human intestine.
Once the liver fluke breaks through the intestinal wall, it enters the peritoneal cavity (the space between numerous organs near the pelvis) and the liver. Once there, it begins feeding on the liver cells. It takes a few days to start, but once it does, it moves to the bile duct and becomes an adult.
The liver fluke is now an adult. A grown-up fluke measures about 3 centimeters and can generate 20 to 30 thousand eggs daily. Infected people suffer from numerous symptoms caused by these liver fluke parasites feasting on their liver.
There are some severe symptoms, such as bile duct cancer, and others mild, like abdominal pain.
Symptoms & Health Implications
The Common Symptoms
Unfortunately, many symptoms are mild and often ascribable to other potential issues. But they include fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hives, abdominal pain, decreased appetite and weight loss, red spots in your stool, and malaise.
Regardless, it’s essential to recognize these symptoms as early as possible to avoid a clinical infection, issues with white blood cells, the biliary system, and more.
If the issue is left for a long time, the infected person can be affected for the entire life span of the parasitic worm. For the record, that’s 25-30 years.
The main issue is that these adult parasites can affect the liver, leading to other problems. Also, the longer the parasitic worm is inside your body, the higher the risk of serious issues such as bile duct cancer.
It should be noted that most of the time, this doesn’t happen, and liver fluke infestations are very rarely fatal. It’s what they lead to which are the most significant health concerns. Fortunately, they are very easily treated.
Prevention and Treatment
The best prevention measure for liver fluke infections is to stay aware and take caution. If travelling somewhere with a higher risk, such as agricultural locations, you need to take extra precautions.
Take the standard food hygiene advice when handling freshwater fish, eating raw foods, and handling anything raw or undercooked. Exposing flukes to high levels of heat, such as boiling, will kill them.
Medical Treatment Options
If you suspect you have a liver fluke infection, the first step is to contact your doctor. A proper diagnosis will allow them to delineate the appropriate treatment.
There are several anthelmintics that your doctor will prescribe for a fluke infection, depending on what type of liver fluke it is.
Praziquantel and albendazole treat clonorchiasis, a specific form of liver fluke infection. For fascioliasis, caused by the sheep liver fluke, triclabendazole and possibly nitazoxanide.
To maintain a healthy lifestyle, consider taking on a dietary change to support liver health. Doing this during and after the liver fluke infections are dealt with is productive, ensuring continued health.
You can also introduce new herbs and supplements to cleanse your body of parasites. Items such as berberine, coconut oil and many others have been named as cleansing and can help to detox the body.
Take Action, Stay Healthy
While often asymptomatic, liver fluke infections should be addressed promptly to avoid the risk of long-term conditions and other problems affecting your health and well-being.
To ensure that you don’t put yourself at risk of the common liver fluke, practice the preventive measures as described, seek medical advice if uncertain, and do all you can to remain healthy.
If you are seeking support with detoxing or getting back to health, then remember to consult us for expert advice.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do liver flukes affect the body's digestion?
If you suffer from a liver fluke infection, you may experience abdominal pain, indigestion and other symptoms.
Can liver flukes lead to chronic health conditions?
Yes. Chronic health conditions may occur due to the presence of the liver fluke. Physical bile duct damage can cause lifelong issues such as anemia and hypoproteinemia. Not to mention liver damage.
What are the long-term effects of untreated liver fluke infestations?
Infection of the biliary system, stones, and bile duct cancer.