The New York Times published a disturbing article in last week’s Science Section.
The article highlighted the risk to humans of worms transmitted in the feces of dogs and cats to children. In Linnaean taxonomy, the worm is known as Toxocara (cati in cats and canis in dogs); in the veterinarian’s office, the worm is known as an intestinal roundworm.
Parasites from Animals to Humans
Toxocara infection in children provokes concern because after ingestion, the worms may ultimately migrate to the brain. Doctors are concerned the presence of the parasite may compromise cognition in children who are infected. Sometimes, roundworms migrate to the eye and compromise vision.
Toxocara is not the only animal parasite that can be found in the playground. Baylisascaris procyonis, the raccoon roundworm, rarely infects humans, but again, the resistance of children to handwashing puts them at risk for ingesting raccoon roundworm eggs when playing outdoors. Hookworm eggs, Ancyclostoma caninum, are shed in the feces of dogs and can migrate through the skin and cause itchy red skin lesions.
Protecting Pets and People
Because veterinarians know Toxocara and Ancyclostoma can be transmitted to humans, every puppy and kitten is routinely dewormed during veterinary visits for vaccinations. This practice makes puppies and kittens healthier and protects humans as well. To control Toxocara and other intestinal parasites on an ongoing basis in adult pets, monthly heartworm preventatives commonly include a compound that eradicates most intestinal parasites. Toxocara and other intestinal parasites still cause problems despite these efforts because stray dogs and feral cats are not routinely dewormed and can spread worm eggs when they defecate in parks, playgrounds and sandboxes. Children playing outdoors in areas contaminated with the eggs of Toxocara and other intestinal parasites can become infected if they forget to wash their hands before eating and ingest the eggs.
How You Can Help
- Be a good citizen and pick up after your dog.
- Follow your veterinarian’s recommendations regarding deworming your dog and cat.
- Administer monthly heartworm preventative to prevent intestinal parasites in your pet.
- Keep your dog on a leash to prevent him from snacking on raccoon feces.
- Make sure your children wash their hands thoroughly after playing outdoors.
- Prevent your children from eating dirt or sand while engaging in outdoor activities.