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Nasty Infectious Diseases You Want To Avoid - Toxocariasis

Updated on January 1, 2009

This is the infection with the larvae of Toxocara (the common roundworm of dogs and cats). Toxocara canis is one of two types of roundworm, and this is the variety found in dogs. T. canis is the more infectious of the two, while Toxocara cati is the variety found in cats. T. cati is the less infectious of the two.

Children between age one and four who spend a lot of time outside and have the tendency to eat dirt or in other ways ingest soiled material are at particular risk for this disease. Older children and adults in households with an infected younger child may show evidence of light infection. The disease is also known as visceral larva migrans.

Cause - Ingesting the eggs that are often found in soil leads to the spread of tiny larvae throughout the body. In the United States, dogs are often infected with worms that are passed to them as pups before birth or while nursing. Adult worms pass eggs in the dogs' feces, which then may find their way into soil or sandboxes. These eggs can remain viable for many weeks-even months. When a child eats soil or sand containing these eggs, the larvae hatch in the child's small intestine, penetrating the intestinal wall and migrating throughout the body. After some time, the larvae in the child will die. It is also possible to be infected by eating unwashed vegetables grown in contaminated soil. However, humans cannot pass the infection from one to another.

Symptoms - Most people have no signs of the infestation, and there is a long incubation period. Children who swallow large numbers of worms may be sick with breathing problems or pneumonia, enlarged liver, fever, anemia, fatigue, skin rash, and eye problems. In rare cases, seizures may develop or the child may lose their eyesight as larvae enter the eye and die there.

Diagnosis - An abnormal blood count with a high number of a certain type of white blood cells and antibodies suggest a diagnosis. Tests for specific antibodies to the worm can be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The infestation may also be diagnosed by sputum analysis and by a liver biopsy.

Complication - If the larvae migrate to the liver, lungs, or abdomen, they can cause an enlarged liver, pneumonia, and stomach pain. They may reach a child's eyes, thus damaging the retina. Symptoms of complications include breathing problems, rash, and fever.

Treatment - There is no specific drug treatment that will cure the infestation. The disease is usually self-limiting even without treatment. In severe cases, the patient should be hospitalized and given the antihelmintic drug thiabendazole to control the infestation. Anticonvulsant drugs may also be administered. Steroids have helped some people with heart or nervous system problems.

Prevention - Worming of pets can help prevent the spread of this disease. All pets at age three weeks should be dewormed, followed by a deworming every two weeks until the pet has had three treatments. They should be checked for worms regularly.

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