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Friday, May 3, 2019

Worms and Germs

I’m a spring baby. In fact, this is the eve of my birthday. Over the last several weeks I have talked about spring cleaning. Spring brings new growth, budding trees, plant pollen and worms on sidewalks after a heavy rain. I hate worms. I can’t stand touching earth worms, in fact I can put a worm on a hook using a stick and a rock. My dislike for worms goes way back. As a child I had a cat who spent as much time outdoors and indoors. He was an avid hunter. He ate what he caught and as a result he would get tape worms. If you have never seen a tapeworm segment, be thankful. I have nightmares.  My nightmares worsened in university when my roommates, who happened to be in the same Zoology course as me, thought it would be fun to place pieces of rubber bands cut in small tape worm segments in my bed. I happened to be coming back late on a Sunday night when they did it. I got into bed, I felt something odd. I whipped back the covers, flicked on my lamp and nearly had a heart attack. For the love of @#)$!  I had tapeworm segments in my bed! It took me a few moments to be brave enough to touch them and realise they were elastic bands. At this point my “friends” were giggling so much I realised I had been punked…

Laugh away. I can now. But why bring this rather embarrassing story up? Well, dogs and humans can be infected by a potentially deadly tapeworm that University of Guelph researchers say is now in Southern Ontario. The tapewormEchinococcus multilocularis, wasn't thought to be present in Ontario until five sick dogs from the west side of Lake Ontario were identified. We may not think of tapeworms as being a huge concern, but this one is particularly nasty. It can cause disease of the liver and, if left untreated, can spread to other organs and cause death in dogs and humans. An analysis of Canadian hospital discharge data showed that between 2001 and 2014, 242 patients were treated for echinococcosis, and while this may not be a huge number to everyone, it does highlight the importance of this as a zoonotic disease. In fact, Ontario became the first province in Canada to make it mandatory for physicians and veterinarians to report all human and animal cases to local public health departments.

Humans are infected when they eat tapeworm eggs. This can occur by eating foods such as vegetables, fruits or herbs, or drinking contaminated water. The eggs can also stick to our hands when we pet an infected dog or cat, when we handle a wild animal or its carcass, when we touch contaminated soil or vegetation. We can also pick it up via an uninfected pet that happens to have the eggs on their fur. Do you have a dog that may roll in poop? 

If you’re like me, you may have started gardening. I’m not much of a gardener, but I do try to get things in order as early as I can and we do have a vegetable garden where yes, I eat what we have grown directly off the plant after a quick wipe on my pants. I do not have a dog and while we may have the occasional skunk or rabbit, we do not have a yard where coyotes or foxes show up.  I suppose I can consider myself lucky. If you have a dog, try to minimise their wandering and as with many infections, hand hygiene is a key method to stop transmission. Be sure to wash your hands with soap and warm water after handling dogs, before handling food and of course avoid ingestion of food, water or soil contaminated with dog poop.

Bugging Off!


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