Thursday, April 28, 2011

Q: Can Worms get transferred to people?

Dr. Schaeberle,

What are intestinal parasites? Can they be transferred to people?

“Scared of Worms”


Dear Scared of Worms,

The term intestinal parasites is a broad name that includes worms, protozoa and other intestinal organisms.

Worms are a very common finding in all animals and of all ages. The types of worms that are commonly seen are roundworms, whipworms, hookworms and tape worms. Giardia is routinely tested for, but is actually not a worm, rather a type of protozoa.

Puppies and kittens are often born with roundworms because the mother will harbor small numbers of eggs, passing them through the placenta. Other sources of infestation are from the environment (yard, woods, soil, etc), contaminated feces (from other pets, farm animals, raccoons, etc) or eating contaminated animals (fleas, mice, birds, bugs, earthworms, etc). Intestinal parasites are common causes of diarrhea, vomiting and weight loss. Another concern is their risk of zoonosis, which is the spread of disease from animals to humans.

If contracted from an infected animal or source, a human may develop gastrointestinal problems, but also a condition called larval migrans. Larval migrans is when the larvae of worms stray from the intestines, traveling under the skin, within the eye or even into the brain.

Due to the implications for your pet (diarrhea, etc) and the chance of spread to us, it is important that a stool sample be checked by your veterinarian at your pet’s annual wellness exam or anytime they develop diarrhea. If your pet has tested positive, repeat testing is usually done to make sure the treatment was effective. Occasionally a negative sample is obtained despite the presence of worms because adult worms are not constantly shedding their eggs. Specific de-worming medications are prescribed based on the fecal results and/or your veterinarian’s suspicion of intestinal parasites.

Another important source of prevention is monthly heartworm prevention. Not only will these pills prevent heartworm disease, they will also treat for round worms, hook worms and sometimes whip worms. It is important to understand that these medications, including the heartworm pill, are only one time treatments. Your pet can be re-infected after receiving the medication and will remain infected until either the next dose of heartworm prevention is given or more de-worming medication is dispensed.

Thomas Schaeberle, VMD

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