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Population dynamics and host reactions in young foxes following experimental infection with the minute intestinal fluke, Haplorchis pumilio

Sofie Nissen*, Stig Milan Thamsborg, Per Walther Kania, Páll S Leifsson, Anders Dalsgaard and Maria Vang Johansen

Author Affiliations

Department of Veterinary Disease Biology, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Groennegaardsvej 15, Frederiksberg C DK-1870, Denmark

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Parasites & Vectors 2013, 6:4  doi:10.1186/1756-3305-6-4

Published: 4 January 2013



Infections with fish-borne zoonotic trematodes (FZT) including the minute intestinal fluke, Haplorchis pumilio, are highly prevalent in Southeast Asia. However, little is known about the infection dynamics and clinical symptoms in the final hosts which include a range of animal species and man. We aimed to generate such information using an experimental model with H. pumilio in foxes.


Eight commercially bred foxes were each orally infected with 2000 H. pumilio metacercariae. Another three foxes served as uninfected controls. Faecal examination for eggs was performed twice weekly. The body weight was measured, standard haematological and biochemical analysis were performed regularly. All foxes were euthanized at day 56 post infection (p.i.). Adult worms were quantified and location in the small intestine noted.


Anorexia was observed in all infected foxes starting day 12 p.i. and lasting for approximately a week. A weight loss was noticed in the infected group in weeks 3–6 p.i. Five of eight infected foxes excreted H. pumilio eggs day 9 p.i. onwards, the remaining three started on day 13 p.i. Mean (± SD) faecal egg counts showed an initial peak at day 16–20 with a maximum of 1443 ± 1176 eggs per gram of faeces (epg), where after a stable egg output around 4–500 epg was seen. Worm burdens ranged between 116–2070 adult flukes with a mean (± SD) worm recovery of 948 ± 666. The majority of worms were found in the lower part of the jejunum. Total white blood cell and lymphocyte counts were significant lower in the infected group from first week p.i. onwards and throughout the study period. A significantly lower level of eosinophils was found in week 2 p.i. and transient anaemia was seen in week 2 and 4 p.i.


This study showed a short prepatency period, an initial peak in egg excretion, establishment of infection in all animals with predilection site in the lower jejunum and a marked but transient clinical effect of the infection. The findings on egg output and prepatency should be taken into consideration when control programs targeting dogs and other reservoir hosts are to be established.

Haplorchis pumilio; Heterophyidae; Fish-borne zoonotic trematode; Minute intestinal fluke; Clinical pathology; Anaemia; Anorexia; Worm burden; Faecal egg counts; Fecundity