Health Alert: Roundworm & Ringworm
As summer approaches, your children will likely be running barefoot through the grass and playing in the dirt. If you have pets or if other pets visit your yard there are a few potential health risks you should be aware of. Roundworms and hookworms, parasites we typically associate with dogs and cats, can cause serious health problems in people. Ringworm, on the other hand, is a relatively mild fungal infection (think Athlete's Foot). Despite the unfortunate name, ringworm has nothing to do with worms. The term was originally coined because of the ring-like appearance of the skin rash that an infected person develops. Roundworm Roundworm infection is a very common parasitic disease in puppies and kittens as well as adult pets that spend time outdoors. Veterinarians routinely de-worm all puppies and kittens, and strongly recommend that monthly parasite preventative products be used in at-risk adult animals. If your pet spends any time at all outdoors, it is at risk for contracting this parasite. Your pet can acquire the parasite from its mother or can become infected by hunting or by ingesting fecal material from other animals. An infected pet will often have gastrointestinal problems and may suffer from stunted growth or other complications. Your pet can then infect you or your children by defecating the eggs into your yard or home environment. The infection is actually transmitted through the "fecal-oral" route. This means if you get dog or cat feces on your hands, and then you don't wash your hands prior to eating or touching your face, you could be ingesting the parasite eggs. Children are at greatest risk because of their poor hygiene habits. If a human becomes infected, there are serious health consequences. The larvae could migrate to the eyes, causing a condition called Ocular Larval Migrans, which may result in blindness. The larvae could also migrate through the internal organs, causing Visceral Larval Migrans, which could lead to illness or death. Hookworms are very similar to roundworms except the larvae burrow through your skin and cause an infection called Cutaneous Larval Migrans. Wearing shoes outdoors will help prevent this infection. Lower Roundworm Risk 1. Deworm your pets regularly or treat them with a monthly preventative product. 2. Do not allow fecal material to build up in your yard. 3. Do not eat unwashed fruits or vegetables or garden without wearing gloves. 4. Teach children good hygiene habits and discourage them from eating dirt. 5. Keep sandboxes covered to discourage cats from defecating in them. 6. Wash your hands before eating or touching your face. 7. Never go barefoot in a yard or park where pets roam. Ringworm Ringworm is a fungal infection that is fairly common in cats but not as common in dogs. It causes scaly, crusty skin lesions. A cat may get ringworm from contact with an infected cat or exposure to fungal spores in the environment. In healthy adult cats, the infection is usually self-limiting, meaning it may go away on its own. In young cats or immunocompromised cats, it may take longer to clear the infection. In either case, most veterinarians will want to treat the infection to prevent contamination of the environment and to protect the humans or other pets in the household. Humans can become infected but this is typically not a serious disease. If you develop a suspicious skin rash, see your doctor for treatment and to rule out more serious skin diseases. Dr. Cori Gross is a feline-only veterinarian from Seattle, WA, and serves as a field veterinarian for Veterinary Pet Insurance. Dr. Gross received her veterinary degree from Washington State University. She currently divides her time between lecturing at veterinary colleges on the topic of pet health insurance, practicing in feline-only medicine, volunteering at a local cat shelter, and writing about veterinary medicine. For more information on Roundworms and Ringworms, check the Pet Vet Disease & Condition Finder.