Jacob Chessin Wustner's letter on wolves and tapeworms (June 6) provides more misinformation than information and is typical of the ill-informed hysteria we see so much of whenever wolves are being discussed.
Contrary to Wustner's statements, wolves reintroduced to Montana in mid-1990s are not the source of the Echinococcus granulosus tapeworm. All wolves were effectively dewormed (twice) prior to transport from Canada. E. granulosus has in fact long been present in the lower 48 states, where it cycles through domestic dogs, ungulates, foxes and coyotes. In Alaska and Canada it has been endemic since prehistoric times, and cycles through wolves and wild caribou and moose.
The cysts form inside the organs of ungulates like deer and elk, and if eaten by a dog, coyote or wolf, may result in the formulation of a tapeworm, which in turn passes eggs out of its host in feces. Although the likelihood of infection is low and the likelihood of serious disease even lower, it makes sense to take reasonable precautions to avoid getting this or any other disease. Hunters field-dressing animals should wear rubber gloves and wash their hands to minimize risk of infection of various diseases they could potentially get. People should avoid allowing their dogs to feed on offal from wild game.
Wustner is flat wrong that hydatid disease "caused the confirmed deaths of over 300 Alaskans since 1950." I worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and hunted in Alaska for over 20 years. According to the Alaska Division of Public Health's Epidemiology Section, there were 300 confirmed human cases of hydatid during that time period - not deaths. Hydatid disease is treatable, and very rarely results in death.
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According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, very few cases have been reported even though have long co-existed with Echinococcus. Humans, unlike elk and deer, are not part of the natural cycle for this disease and so are rarely infected. And even in Minnesota, where the parasite has been well-documented for many years, and where there are high numbers of hunters, wolves and deer, no case of human infection has ever been recorded.
The FWS and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks have a long track record of providing good information to hunters and others about the various wildlife-borne parasites that humans may encounter. Both agencies have accurate, understandable information on their websites about E. granulosus and hydatid disease. Misinformation about this disease is being spread by those looking for excuses to hate wolves and by one Canadian scientist who apparently has an unfortunate history with a family member who contracted the disease in Europe.
Sterling Miller is a senior wildlife biologist with the National Wildlife Federation, and writes from Missoula.