A 12-year-old girl from southwest China has a rare medical condition that has caused her belly to swell up like a pregnant woman.
But Meng Caixiu of Guizhou Province is not about to give birth.
She has a liver cyst, which is a rare condition where a bubble along the side of her liver fills up with fluid, causing her belly to get bigger and bigger each day.
According to the American Liver Foundation, most patients with liver cysts do not experience symptoms, nor do the cysts develop to become life threatening of harmful for the liver.
The cause of liver cysts are unknown in most cases.
For Caixiu, she was diagnosed with her condition when she was just a year old, and her bellow has kept swelling since.
According to China Central Television (CCTV) reports, her parents are at their wits’ end, having spent all their savings and even gone into debt to treat her condition to no avail.
Doctors who have seen her have not been able to cure her.
In a video interview, her father Meng Guofan said that her condition is worsening by the day.
“She looks so pitiable. Now the family is so impoverished that we can’t afford medical fees,” he said.
“She is such a poor child,” he lamented.
Echinococcosis, which is often referred to as hydatid disease or echinococcal disease, is a parasitic disease that affects both humans and other mammals, such as sheep, dogs, rodents and horses. There are three different forms of echinococcosis found in humans, each of which is caused by the larval stages of different species of the tapeworm of genus Echinococcus. The first of the three and also the most common form found in humans is cystic echinococcosis (also known as unilocular echinococcosis), which is caused by Echinococcus granulosus. The second is alveolar echinococcosis (also known as alveolar colloid of the liver, alveolar hydatid disease, alveolococcosis, multilocular echinococcosis, “small fox tapeworm”), which is caused by Echinococcus multilocularis and the third is polycystic echinococcosis (also known as human polycystic hydatid disease, neotropical echinococcosis), which is caused by Echinococcus vogeli and very rarely, Echinococcus oligarthus. Alveolar and polycystic echinococcosis are rarely diagnosed in humans and are not as widespread as cystic echinococcosis, but polycystic echinococcosis is relatively new on the medical scene and is often left out of conversations dealing with echinococcosis, and alveolar echinococcosis is a serious disease that not only has a significantly high fatality rate but also has the potential to become an emerging disease in many countries.
Echinococcus eggs contain an embryo that is called an oncosphere or hexcanth. The name of this embryo stems from the fact that these embryos have six hooklets. The eggs are passed through the feces of the definitive host and it is the ingestion of these eggs that lead to infection in the intermediate host.
Larval/hydatid cyst stage
From the embryo released from an egg develops a hydatid cyst, which grows to about 5–10 cm within the first year and is able to survive within organs for years. Cysts sometimes grow to be so large that by the end of several years or even decades, they can contain several liters of fluid. Once a cyst has reached a diameter of 1 cm, its wall differentiates into a thick outer, non-cellular membrane, which covers the thin germinal epithelium. From this epithelium, cells begin to grow within the cyst. These cells then become vacuolated and are known as brood capsules, which are the parts of the parasite from which protoscolices bud. Often, daughter cysts will also form within cysts.
Echinococcus adult worms develop from protoscolices and are typically 6mm or less in length and have a scolex, neck and typically three proglottids, one of which is immature, another of which is mature and the third of which is gravid (or containing eggs). The scolex of the adult worm contains four suckers and a rostellum that has about 25-50 hooks.
Morphological differences among different species
The major morphological difference among different species of Echinococcus is the length of the tapeworm. E. granulosus is approximately 2 to 7 mm while E. multilocuralis is often smaller and is 4 mm or less. On the other hand, E. vogeli is found to be up to 5.6 mm long and E. oligarthus is found to be up to 2.9 mm long. In addition to the difference in length, there are also differences in the hydatid cysts of the different species. For instance, in E. multilocularis, the cysts have an ultra thin limiting membrane and the germinal epithelium may bud externally. Furthermore, E. granulosus cysts are unilocular and full of fluid while E. multilocularis cysts contain little fluid and are multilocular. For E. vogeli, its hydatid cysts are large and are actually polycystic since the germinal membrane of the hydatid cyst actually proliferates both inward, to create septa that divide the hydatid into sections, and outward, to create new cysts. Like E. granulosus cysts, E. vogeli cysts are filled with fluid.