Friday, 11 May 2018


Small children just love playing in the sand but there can be   very dangerous worms in the sand. I am speaking of the very small roundworms that are often found in sandy beaches and sandboxes.                                                    

Roundworms that I am writing about are not the worms you see in your garden. The worms I am writing about are very small, slender worms that are typically about 5 to 100 µm thick, and 0.1 to 2.5 mm long. Some of them are microscopic in size. 

Toxocariasis is the illness of humans caused by larvae (immature worms) of either the dog roundworm (Toxocara canis) and the cat roundworm (Toxocara cati) 

Dogs and cats that are infected with  Toxocara  can shed Toxocara eggs in their feces. Your children can become infected by accidentally getting dirt in their mouths that has been contaminated with dog or cat feces that contain infectious Toxocara eggs. Although it is rare, people can also become infected from eating undercooked meat that contains Toxocara larvae. Tens of millions of people may have been exposed to the Toxocara parasite however, many people who are infected with Toxocara do not have symptoms and they do not ever get sick from it.

Ocular toxocariasis occurs when Toxocara larvae migrate to the eye. Symptoms and signs of ocular toxocariasis include vision loss, eye inflammation or damage to the retina. Typically, only one eye is affected.

Visceral toxocariasis occurs when Toxocara larvae migrate to various body organs, such as the liver or central nervous system. Symptoms of visceral toxocariasis include fever, fatigue, coughing, wheezing, and/or abdominal pain.

In most cases, Toxocara infections are not serious, and many people, especially adults infected by a small number of larvae (immature worms), may not notice any symptoms. The most severe cases are rare, but are more likely to occur in young children, who often play in dirt, or eat dirt (pica) contaminated by dog or cat feces.

The most common Toxocara parasite of concern to humans is T. canis, which puppies usually contract from the mother before birth or from her milk. The larvae mature rapidly in the puppy’s intestine; when the pup is 3 or 4 weeks old, they begin to produce large numbers of eggs that contaminate the environment through the animal’s feces. Over a 2 to 4 week time period, infective larvae develop in the eggs. Toxocariasis is not spread by person-to-person contact like a cold or the flu.

These parasitic worms have left millions of victims paralyzed, epileptic, or mentally retarded because they have reached their brains and subsequently brought havoc to their brains.

Kids love sandboxes. Parents do not, and for good reason. When public health–testing organization NSF International sampled 26 different items in public places—toys at doctors’ offices, children’s library books, playground sandboxes—for a 2008 study on germs, they found that sandboxes were far and away the germiest of all, harboring nearly 2,000 times more bacteria, yeast, and mold per square inch than the door handles of public restrooms.

Of course, bacteria, yeast, and mold aren’t all bad. Many are actually quite good for us. Not so for the other microbial gifts that sandboxes sometimes leave for kids such as parasitic worms.

Giant litter boxes, uncovered sandboxes invite animals such as raccoons, dogs and cats use them as toilets, which essentially turns them into giant parasite Petri dishes. And that’s bad, because even if your kids don’t end up having sand  in their mouths like many sometimes do by putting g their sand-covered fingers in their mouths. that is when the parasites are transmitted by what is not-so-euphemistically called the fecal-oral route, meaning they go from one animal butt straight to the next kid’s mouth. Bon appétit!

Of course, most kids who play in sandboxes don’t always get sickHowever, it’s also possible that kids are getting sick and their parents just don’t know it. Doctors are not required to notify the government when they diagnose these infections—so no one is closely monitoring them or their epidemiology.

Further, many kids who get parasites in their bodies either never get diagnosed with them, as symptoms can be mild and spontaneously resolve, or their diagnoses are kept quiet. (Are you really going to tell your friends that your kid just got dewormed?) And when your little one  does get parasites inside of him or her, you won’t be able to tie it back to that time three weeks ago when your child played in a sandbox. The fact is that a large proportion of Americans—many of them kids—are infected by parasites, and sandboxes are a known hot spot. “There is a real threat,” says Laila Woc-Colburn, an infectious disease specialist at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Consider what happened when researchers at McGill University tested the surface sand from sandboxes at 10 local day care centers in 1991. Two of the sandboxes, they discovered, were contaminated with eggs of a parasite called Toxocara. Once a child eats them, the eggs hatch in his or her body into larvae, which can burrow into the liver, lungs, and/or brains thereby damaging their central nervous system, or eyes. Sometimes the infection is asymptomatic, but when it’s not and is not properly diagnosed and treated, it can cause liver damage, lung damage, or blindness. An earlier 1979 study found that a whopping 39 percent of residential sandboxes in the State of Kansas  contained Toxocara eggs. Research suggests that 1 out of every 7 Americans over the age of 6 has been infected with this parasite.

The McGill study also reported that one of the sandboxes with  Toxocara eggs was co-contaminated with the eggs of Ascaris—a parasitic worm that can, occasionally, cause intestinal blockage and stunted growth. Another parasite kids can get from sandboxes is Toxoplasma gondii, which is spread by cats and believed to chronically infect more than 1 out of every 6 pesons. In one study, researchers in Japan spied on three urban sandboxes at night using camcorders and found that over the course of five months, cats shit in the boxes 961 times, and dogs shit in them 11 times. They calculated that one of the sandboxes contained more than 1.5 million viable Toxoplasma eggs per square foot of sand, yet children need only ingest a single egg to get sick.

Although Toxoplasma infections are typically mild—some people get flu-like symptoms, while others feel fine, though most will harbor the parasite for the rest of their lives—individuals with compromised immune systems can fall very ill, and when women become infected during pregnancy, their babies can develop brain or vision damage or become sick later in life. Some research also suggests that the parasite can affect behavior and personality. So the next time an aggressive driver cuts you off, calm yourself with the thought that he might be infested with a parasite inside his brain.

Let’s also not forget pinworms—the tiny little worms that live in your intestines, scurry down to your anus while you sleep, and lay their eggs n your bedsheet there every night.

Nearly half of all kids are believed to have pinworms at any given time and when they do, their parents usually have them also.  They are tough to diagnose You basically have to set an alarm every a few hours after you go to sleep so that you can  inspect your bedsheet for crawling pin worms.

Austin, Texas-based pediatrician Ari Brown wrote in her best-selling book Toddler 411, sandy beaches or are an excellent place for kids to catch pinworms, because pinworms cause kids’ butts to itch; then they scratch their butts, getting pinworm eggs on their fingers and finally in their mouths  who then work their way to the kid’s intestines.  Kids building sandcastles in sandboxes  filled with thousands pf pinworm eggs is a guarantee that they will be infected with these parasites and their eggs.

As many as 4 out of 5 raccoons carry parasites and infected coons typically excrete  out thousands, if not millions, of eggs a day—perhaps right on your lawn. In a 2009 study, researchers found  racoon feces in more than half of the suburban Chicago backyards they sampled. Once there, the parasite’s eggs are virtually indestructible, except with exposure to very high heat. such as a blow torch which is not a good idea unless you want to destroy your lawn.

Human infections with Baylisascaris seem to be very, very rare, although no one really knows why.  The parasites are extremely dangerous. If eggs are accidentally ingested by a human, larval infection can lead to devastating neurological disease and death. One-third of cases are fatal. In 2009, two kids from Brooklyn caught it; one developed permanent brain damage, and the other went blind in one eye. Another child fell ill with it in Canada in 2009, presumably after—you guessed it!—playing in a sandbox. He was lucky because he was diagnosed and treated quickly, but the infection nevertheless robbed him of the ability to speak, gave him a seizure disorder, and damaged his eyesight.

As for public sandboxes: It kind of goes without saying, but if they smell bad, stay away. Also, try to keep your kids from putting their sand-covered hands in their mouths when they play and make them wash their hands afterward. Alas, hand sanitizer won’t kill worm eggs.  It is best to do it the old-fashioned way—soap and water.  Playgrounds generally have washrooms.

If you own your own sandbox, consider covering it when it isn’t being used by your kids in order to keep out animals. If you have dogs or cats, make sure they are regularly checked for worms, and keep them out of the sandbox so they never use it as a toilet. If you suspect that raccoons are shitting on your lawn, clean up their hazardous excrement before the eggs multiply into millions of unwanted tresspassers.

If you have finished reading this article and are about to have dinner, then all I can say to you now is —bon  appetite and be careful what you put in your mouth. Remember, it only takes one worm’s egg to change your life permanently.

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