Some information is so valuable that it is worth reading more than once. There is frequent media attention warning about the zoonotic potential of intestinal worms. Zoonotic means that if an animal has the disease, humans can get infected, too.
Worms that live in the intestines of both domesticated and wild animals can infected humans and cause mild to severe illnesses. Humans become infected from environmental contamination from pets or wildlife feces. As the expert pointed out, “we flush a toilet, the wildlife and pets don’t”. Unfortunately for the public, pediatricians and family practitioners know less about what is zoonotic to children than do veterinarians.
Worms that are intestinal in our pets and wild animals like raccoons can cause a category of disease referred to as Larval Migrans. The subsets of this include:
1-Visceral (worm larvae migrating in the internal organs) can lead to liver disease, fevers, pneumonia, organ failure, stunted growth.
2-Ocular (worm larvae migrating into the eyeball) can lead to blindness 3-Neural (worm larvae migrating into brain tissue) can lead to encephalitis and brain damage.
4-Cutaneous (worm larvae migrating in the skin)
23% of the cases in North Carolina occur in rural areas where the pets get little to no veterinary care, children are left unsupervised and the environment is more unclean. With dogs it is essential that the owners diligently and continuously pooper scoop. Because cats will contaminate kids’ sandboxes and playschool grounds and flower/vegetable special precautions need to be taken to avoid infections.
NEVER get a pet raccoon; it is illegal. In addition, do not leave food out where raccoons can access it near where humans live and play and work. Raccoons set up what is known as “latrine areas” in your yard or nearby natural areas. They can often be found at the base of a tree, on a flat area of roof, on a fallen tree, or some other horizontal surface. Children and humans can get exposed from handling wood that has been cut for firewood. The parasite in raccoon feces have a fast migration in the body, the larva grow fast and have a predilection for brain tissue. Children have been left paralyzed, mentally impaired, or dead from the encephalitis that results.
Hay that is harvested and stored in barns is often contaminated with wildlife feces. This is the hay you are putting in your dog’s house for bedding or feeding/bedding your pet rabbit. Other animals are attracted to raccoon latrines because of the seeds in the feces. Therefore, birds, opossums, squirrels and other wildlife can become infected as well. Hunting dogs have a high rate of contact with wildlife feces.
The following is a plan adopted by a national taskforce to help decrease the potential risk from Larval Migrans:
1-Routinely deworm ALL pets, indoor and outdoor. Treat puppies and kittens every 2 weeks starting at 2-3 weeks old until they are 4 months old. Do fecal exams 2-4 times per year for pets under a year old and do fecal exams 1-2 times per year in adult pets to check for the less common parasites but continue to deworm with a quality product. Keep both cats and dogs on a monthly heartworm preventative that also kills the zoonotic intestinal worms. Oral dewormers can be used 2 weeks after each monthly heartworm pill especially if your child and/or pet are at high risk.
2- Cover all sandboxes.
3-Pooper scoop after your dogs when you walk them in other people’s yards in addition to pooper scooping your property.
4-Reduce stray dog and feral cat populations as well as eliminating nuisance wildlife as these are all sources if infections.
5-Keep children away from contaminated areas and observe their behavior at all times.
6-Wash hands often and frequently and wear gloves when gardening.
7-It may be necessary to treat the contaminated environment with heat such as a propane flame gun, boiling water, steam cleaner or burning straw. For heavily contaminated areas it may be desirable to remove, discard, and replace the top several inches of soil.
8-Use year round quality flea control as the common flea tapeworm of dogs and cats can mature in children who accidentally ingest infected fleas.
For more information go to the Companion Animals Parasite Council web site at www.capcvet.org and bring in a fresh fecal sample from your pet for testing