Zoonosis - Gastrointestinal worms

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Murwillumbah Veterinary Clinic
8-10 Queen St
Murwillumbah
NSW 2484

Phone:
02 6672 1919
Fax:
02 6672 1918

ZOONOSIS - Gastrointestinal worms

Zoonosis: An infectious disease in animals that can be transmitted to people.

Zoonoses: plural of Zoonosis

Watch out for worms!!

Humans can be infected with worms from pets. This happens in several ways which are discussed below.

It is important to remember that the transmission of parasites from pets to humans can be easily prevented by regular worming of your pet, by always picking up after your pet goes to the toilet (using a plastic bag and avoiding contact with the skin) and by ALWAYS washing your hands after handling your pet or any poo that you have picked up. Don’t let your pet lick your face! We all know where those tongues might have been!!!

 


Types of worms that can be passed from your pet to you include:

Hookworm

HOW DO I GET IT?

Playing, walking barefoot or working in soil or sand which contains infected dog or cat faeces or by handling infected faeces. Larvae of the hookworm burrow through the skin.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF I DO GET INFECTED?

In pets, which are the preferred host, the larvae travel to the intestine and develop into adult worms.

In humans however, the larvae lose their sense of direction and travel under the skin instead – this is known as cutaneous larva migrans. They cause snake-like tracts which blister. This usually occurs where the larvae enter the skin, such as on the feet, legs, hands and buttocks. These tracts are very itchy and they develop at the rate of one to two centimetres per day for about fifty days.

 


Roundworm

HOW DO I GET IT?

Young children are most commonly affected, mainly from playing in contaminated soil or sandpits and then ingesting (eating) the eggs. After being passed in the faeces of your pet, the eggs mature in the soil. The eggs can also be ingested from unwashed hands after patting an infected dog. When ingested, the eggs hatch and the larvae migrate. Again they lose their way, and can lodge in almost any organ such as the brain, liver, lungs, kidney or eyes.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF I DO GET INFECTED?

The most serious symptoms include neurological disturbances and blindness. As these parasites are not supposed to be in a human body at all (we are not the preferred host), the immune system responds by trying to wall them off to stop them moving any further. The disease in humans is known as visceral larva migrans, or, if in the eye, ocular larva migrans.

 


Tapeworm

HOW DO I GET IT?

You would have to ingest a flea infected with a juvenile form of the worm to become infected with tapeworm.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF I DO GET INFECTED?

While these worms can be quite large, they don't cause huge problems and people often don't know they have them. Sometimes people notice they are passing tapeworm segments in their stools and sometimes segments migrate from a person's bottom where the segments may cause itching. Diarrhoea and abdominal pain may also occur.

 


Whipworm

HOW DO I GET IT?

Whipworm eggs, when ingested, can also infect humans.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF I DO GET INFECTED?

Once ingested, these worms develop in the intestinal tract where they may cause mild enteritis.

 


Hydatid Tapeworm

HOW DO I GET IT?

Like many worms, the hydatid tapeworm has a complex lifecycle that involves a number of species. The mature worm lives and reproduces inside the dog’s intestines. Dog passes infected faeces and sheep, kangaroo and cattle graze on the egg-infested pasture. Once inside the intermediate host, the eggs hatch into larvae. The larvae then mature to form a ‘hydatid cyst’.

Luckily, in cattle, many of the cysts end up ‘dying’, but in sheep and kangaroos, the cysts are far more likely to remain infective, and the cysts can continue to grow over the life of the animal. When a dog (or dingo) eats the offal (liver, kidneys) from an infected sheep or kangaroo, it also eats the cysts - the life cycle is then completed.

The reason this tapeworm is so significant is because sometimes a HUMAN inadvertently becomes the intermediate host – ingesting the eggs of the tapeworm. Similar to the effect in sheep and cattle, the infected human can develop these large hydatid cysts in their liver, lungs or even the kidneys or brain. Humans can become infected with the tapeworm by accidentally eating the eggs that have been shed by dogs, but it is also possible to eat contaminated food, or to come into contact with the eggs from handling an infected dog. Alternatively, humans can become infected from eating raw vegetables (often home-grown ones) that have been contaminated by dog’s droppings. Making sure that dogs do not contaminate the vegie garden, and that all vegies are thoroughly washed can help avoid this. Hydatid tapeworm are known to exist in the Northern Rivers so YOU ARE AT RISK.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF I DO GET INFECTED?

Once inside the human, the damage done depends on where the hydatid cyst forms, and also the size the cyst reaches. If the cyst gets large, the organ it is in will have reduced or altered function – a big cyst in the lungs can make a human very short of breath, a large cyst in the brain can act like a brain tumour.

 


PREVENTION

Avoid feeding offal from possible intermediate hosts – especially sheep and kangaroos. Feeding offal to dogs, even if boiled, carries a significant risk of transmitting hydatids so feed commercially prepared foods.

Do not allow dogs to roam or scavenge from sheep or kangaroo carcasses.

Note: It is NOT POSSIBLE for humans to become infected by eating the contaminated offal of sheep or cattle!

Here are some tips to prevent these nasty parasites:

• Worm your pup or kitten every two weeks until it is 3 months old, then every month for life

• Keep your pet free of fleas, as fleas transmit tapeworm

• Remove all of your pet's deposits from the yard on a daily basis

• Don't let pets lick you, especially on the face and hands

• Wash your hands after playing with pets and before eating. Make sure any children are taught to do the same. Supervise if necessary

• If you have a dog, it's wise for adults and children to wear shoes when in the garden

• Don’t allow dogs to defaecate near vegie gardens or children’s play area

• Cover sandpits when not in use and wear gloves when gardening

• If your pet is unwell, especially if it has diarrhoea or skin disease, consult your veterinarian