Cystic echinococcosis (CE) is a major neglected tropical zoonotic disease caused by the tissue-dwelling larval stage of the cestode parasite Echinococcus granulosus. For individuals suspected of CE, the diagnostic standard is imaging using ultrasonography, X rays, or computed tomography. These resource-demanding and expensive procedures are rarely available in endemic rural areas where CE is most prevalent. There is a critical need for a new approach to identify CE patients so that they can be managed early in the course of their infection. This study reports on the results of a diagnostic approach that identifies E. granulosus-derived cell-free DNA (cfDNA) in the urine of CE patients. Utilizing PCR to amplify a fragment of a major tandem repeat element found in E. granulosus nuclear DNA, urine samples from all seven imaging-confirmed CE patients who harbored active liver cysts were positive. In addition, the urine samples from 2/4 patients who presented with non-viable/calcified liver cysts were also PCR positive for the repeat fragment. To our knowledge, this is the first report of using parasite cfDNA from urine to diagnose CE. This approach provides an easy to implement and cost-effective method to survey for the prevalence of E. granulosus in humans populations.
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