In the last blog, we looked at intestinal parasites overall, but a few of those nasty buggers are also dangerous to pet parents, as well.
A few of the parasites mentioned are considered “zoonotic diseases,” which means they can be transmitted from animals to humans. Just as a warning for the faint-of-heart: Some of these common parasites have pretty gross methods of getting from Fluffy or Fido to their two-legged family members, so proceed with caution.
Roundworms and hookworms, which are very common in cats and dogs, can pose a risk to people who they are exposed to an environment contaminated with their larva. An area becomes contaminated when a dog or cat that is carrying these parasites sheds microscopic eggs within their feces. (Disgusting, but true!) These eggs can remain in the environment long after the feces have been picked up or washed away, which means you may never know you’ve been exposed until certain signs emerge.
In the case of hookworms, the eggs can hatch into larva that burrows into the skin of an unsuspecting passerby. This can cause an itchy linear rash that follows the path of the larva’s migration through the skin. This rash, called cutaneous larval migrans, commonly occurs on our hands, feet and, if you happened to sit down in a contaminated area, the back of your legs and backside. Cutaneous larval migrans is more common in Southern states, where the hot damp climate favors the survival of large numbers of hookworm larva but it can occur anywhere in the country.
Similarly, roundworms are spread by a method we call the “fecal-oral route,” which means the eggs need to be ingested in order to progress to the next stage of their life cycle. Infection typically happens when someone touches a contaminated surface and then puts their unwashed hand into their mouth. As you may imagine, children are at a higher risk because they tend to munch on their fingers before even the most watchful parents can wash their hands.
Unlike hookworms, though, once the eggs hatch in a human gastrointestinal tract, the larva get lost and “wander” through our systems, doing serious damage to internal organs, eyes and neurologic systems. This is called visceral larval migrans (when the internal organs are affected) and ocular larval migrans (when the eye is affected).
As disgusting and scary as all of this may seem, there is a way to prevent these pesky parasites from invading our systems. Deworming puppies and kittens, keeping adult pets on a monthly preventative, and diligently picking up after your pets are all very effective ways for preventing the spread of parasitic diseases in people and in pets.
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