Ask the Veterinarian…Parasites and People

Question for Dr. Alison?  I live near a park where there is a large sandbox and playground for the kids.  There is also a large open field nearby where they host soccer games, and other recreational sports.   I always see dogs running around the open field when it is not in use.  I have 2 children and we spend a lot of time at this park.  I am always worried about parasites that can get passed from pets to people.  What kind of parasites can we pick up from our pets and what can I do to keep my children safe and free of disease?  Thanks so much Dr. Alison!

Answer:

This is a great question!  The best part is that parasite infection can be easily prevented and treated.  Living in South Florida there are a few common parasites that our pets contract that can be passed along to people.  Children tend to be infected with these parasites more readily than adults because they are playing outdoors, in sandboxes, and in the same areas as pets.

Hookworms and roundworms.  These are intestinal parasites routinely found in dogs and cats, in particular kittens and puppies, and are passed into the environment through their stool.  People can pick them up through their skin from walking barefoot or playing outside. A young child might also accidentally eat the worm eggs…gross!  Hookworm infection can cause painful and itchy skin infections or abdominal symptoms. Roundworm infections may cause no symptoms but can cause nerve or eye damage in some people.

Tapeworms.  Most human tapeworm infections come from eating contaminated meats, but also by accidentally swallowing a flea infected with tapeworm larvae.  Here is how to reduce the risk of tapeworms, roundworms and hookworms:

  • Make sure your child wears shoes outdoors.
  • Make sure all sandboxes are covered when not being used by children.
  • Have your kittens and puppies dewormed by your veterinarian, and monitored regularly for parasites.
  • Control fleas on your pet and in the environment.
  • Seek treatment for your pet right away if you see signs of tapeworms (small white rice like looking pieces in their stool).
  • Clean up your pet’s feces in the yard and public areas right away.
  • Don’t allow your child to play in areas that might be contaminated.
  • Have your child wash his or her hands after playing with pets and being outdoors.

Ringworm.  Ringworm is a fungal infection within the top layer of the skin. It is very contagious and pets can pass this disease along to humans from touching surfaces that an infected pet or person has touched. On skin, ringworm causes a ring-shaped, red rash that may be dry and scaly or wet and crusty. It may also be itchy.  Here are ways to reduce the risk of ringworm:

  • If a pet or family member is infected with ringworm, make sure he or she gets treated immediately (treatment generally involves a topical anti-fungal cream).
  • Consult your doctor if the lesions are extensive or do not improve rapidly with topical treatment.
  • Consult your veterinarian if skin lesions are found on your pets, especially newly acquired pets.
  • Wash sheets and pajamas of the infected family member daily.
  • Avoid direct contact until the ringworm is gone.
  • Keep animals off your bed.
  • Keep your skin clean and dry.

By being cautious, making sure your pets are on proper monthly preventions, and being aware of your child’s environment, these diseases are easily preventable and manageable.  It is important to let children play outdoors and be kids without an overwhelming fear of disease.  I hope this helps with your journey!

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