Can I catch that from my pet? This is a common question we hear as veterinarians. So, we’re going to make this a recurring topic. This week - we’ll cover some intestinal parasites.
Intestinal parasites are the most common infectious diseases that we diagnose and several have the potential to be transmitted to humans. Most of these parasites are transmitted through the feces of an infected animal. So whenever handling animal feces or touching potentially contaminated areas such as soil, outdoor sandbox, or a litter box, thorough handwashing and good personal hygiene are recommended. Keeping your pet on a year-round parasite preventative that protects against some of these parasites, as well as yearly fecal screening for asymptomatic gastrointestinal parasite infections, are important to reduce infection risk.
Giardia is the most common gastrointestinal parasite we diagnose, and we diagnose it on a daily basis. If you’ve ever heard of a human with “Hikers Diarrhea”... welp, that was Giardia. In general, this parasite is quite species specific, however there are some strains that can be transmitted to humans so best to handle all Giardia cases like they may be.
Roundworms can be transmitted in utero and via mom’s milk, as well as via fecal/oral transmission. Humans are not the ideal host for this parasite, but when presented with a human the larval stages will make the most of it and attempt to migrate to the gastrointestinal tract. Instead - they end up in weird places and are a cause of partial blindness in children (as they are notorious about not washing their hands well and playing in sandboxes/dirt) as they like to migrate to the retina (back of the eye) instead.
Hookworm larvae can penetrate intact skin and then migrate to the gastrointestinal tract of dogs and cats; and while humans are not their primary host, they will attempt their life cycle. This can lead to a very itchy skin reaction in humans called cutaneous larval migrans, which result from an intense immune reaction to the larvae as they try to migrate and then die under the skin.
Whipworms and Coccidia are not considered zoonotic parasites, meaning we really don’t see transmission to humans (well, there are RARE reported cases…). However, they are important parasites in dogs and cats (coccidia) and can often cause diarrhea.
There are several types of tapeworms that we seen in our pets. By far the most common one we see in this area has a life cycle that requires the flea as an intermediate host; other strains of tapeworms require small rodents and herbivores as an intermediate host. The vast majority of dog and cat tapeworms are of low risk for transmission to humans. That said there is a tapeworm called Echinococcus which is rarely seen in North America and is actually a reportable disease here. The Echinococcus tapeworm rarely causes disease in dogs and cats, but it is easily transmitted to humans and can lead to large cysts within our internal organs that can lead to anaphylactic shock and death if ruptured!
For more information on these individual parasites and how they may affect you or your family, please visit: http://www.petsandparasites.org
Photo credit: fridam75 on Flickr