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Toxocariasis Symptoms and Treatment

Updated on March 26, 2010

Before I start this article on Toxocariasis, let me preface it by saying I've had Toxocariasis myself and this is being written not only from experience, but with a professional perspective, as I've actually been to school for this sort of thing. So, can you get worms from your cat or dog? Yes, but not quite the way you might imagine. I'm not going to include a lot of technical jargon because that's not really going to help most people reading this. If you're someone who would understand the medical terminology, you're someone who can get this info out of Merck if you really need it. I'm writing this for people who have certain symptoms and know something is wrong, but don't really know what, or what to do about it.

What are the symptoms of Toxocariasis?

  • Basic Toxocariasis often has no symptoms, which is fine because the disease often goes away on its on. If you've got the following symptoms as a result of Toxocariasis, it may be because you've got one of the two syndromes I mentioned above.

  • VLM: Fatique, pale coloring, weight loss (careful with this one -- you may actually think you've gained weight due to bloating), ASTHMA (especially if you've never had it before), nausea, vomiting, headaches, increased irritability, insomnia, and swollen organs which you probably wouldn't notice on your own and would need a doctor to examine you for. I didn't have all of these symptoms, so don't think you need to, either.

  • OLM: Eye pain, declining vision in one eye (as it tends to affect only one), red eyes, pupils turning white, pupils not changing, and other symptoms you wouldn't notice without a doctor's examination.

Treatment

  • The good news is this: Toxocariasis is easy to treat. Basic Toxocariasis will often be allowed to clear up on its own.

  • If you've got VLM, it's a simple tablet regimen: Mebendezole twice a day for 5 days.

  • If you've got OLM, the treatment is a good deal more complex and sometimes requires surgery.

  • Symptoms clear up within a few days of starting treatment, but it's very important you take the full prescription and don't stop early, of you could create a big problem for yourself by developing a drug-resistant case of VLM.

What is Toxocariasis?

Toxocariasis is a human infection of dog or cat roundworms. People can't really support the worm in the same way a cat or dog can, and the worm can't complete it's normal life cycle in people. Since they can't hang out in the same area they would in a cat or dog, they sometimes go wandering to other parts of the body -- and that's when the trouble starts.

How do you get it?

You've got to eat an actively infective roundworm egg in order to become infected by it. This means you've got to eat poo or poo matter from an infectious animal. But before you say, "Hey, I don't eat poo, so I needn't worry," let me assure you that I don't eat poo either, and I've had this disease. Fecal matter can be everywhere and many kids get this by eating contaminated dirt.

How don't you get it?

If Fido's got a roundworm infection, he can pass his worms to you, but not directly. You see, when he poos, even though there are bazillions of eggs in his poo, they aren't infective yet. It can take a couple of weeks for the eggs to reach that stage, so if you've got a puppy pooing in your house and you clean it up like a normal person, this should not lead to worms for anyone. Also, these eggs typically need to develop in the soil before they reach the infective stage, so it's unlikely you'd get this in your house, anyway. So if your mates accuse you being a bad housekeeper and say that's how you got it, tell 'em to read this.

Where do the worms go?

Like I said, they don't hang out in the same place they would in a cat or dog, because they can't complete their normal life cycle in a human host. This may sound like good news, and in some cases it is because Toxocariasis can eventually go away on its own without you noticing any problems -- but sometimes those worms really get comfy in other parts of the body and try to stay for the long haul, which is what happened to me.

VLM (Visceral Larva Migrans)

One syndrome of Toxocariasis is VLM. I have had this and am going to write an article on VLM in a moment. In this situation, the worms move to some part of the body that causes noticeable problems. They could affect the central nervous system and cause seizures and other issues; they could affect the heart; they can generally affect any area they can get to. The symptoms of this may not include anything majorly noticeable, and in that case it's a "covert" form, which is what I had, as well. That is not to say it's without problems and symptoms, so do have a look at the new article on VLM when I've written it. It's treatable, don't worry.

OLM (Ocular Larva Migrans)

This is gross, I know, but OLM happens when a worm takes up house in the eye. Yes, in the eye. Yes, you can go blind from it. It's particularly dangerous for children because they may not be able to explain their symptoms and doctors are unlikely to think of something so rare when you take them in complaining of something going on with eye. It's treatable if you get it in time. I will probably write an article on this one as well.

Image: Arvind Balaraman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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