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Recent warm and wet weather creates ideal conditions for dangerous dog parasites that can also infect people

A parasitologist is cautioning dog owners and families about the increased risk of exposure to Toxocara roundworms and the associated diseases in people, even in unexpected seasons. This risk is due to the recent warm and wet weather across the country and the forecast of an unusually warm winter by the Bureau of Meteorology.

People mainly become infected with Toxocara roundworms through the accidental ingestion of worm eggs in contaminated soil found on unwashed hands or unwashed fruit or vegetables. Young children are most at risk as they are more likely to play in contaminated areas and place things in their mouths.

“Exposure to the infection in people is more common than you think. It is estimated that up to 7% of Australians have been exposed to Toxocara roundworm [1]. The recent spate of warm and wet weather has created ideal conditions for the spread of canine intestinal worms like roundworm and hookworm, so more people are at risk,” said Dr Colella, from the University of Melbourne.
Toxocara Canis Roundworms found in dogs

“Worm larvae develop more quickly in optimal warm and wet conditions and can survive for longer periods of time. Additionally, heavy rain can result in the spread of worm eggs and larvae across the park, rather than having them found in or immediately next to a faecal sample.”

A park and parasite study [2] showed that almost half of all dog parks across Australia are contaminated with canine intestinal worms.

Roundworm eggs can be found in soil wherever dogs have passed faeces. Studies from all over the world have demonstrated high rates (13-35%) of soil contamination with roundworm eggs in public places such as sandpits, parks, playgrounds and beaches [3].

Separate to dogs, these worms can also infect a range of other animals such as chickens and cattle. Therefore, the ingestion of raw or undercooked meat from infected animals is another potential source of transmission.

If a human is infected with Toxocara roundworm, unlike the case in dogs, these worms don’t generally make their way to a human intestine to continue their lifecycle. Instead, the worm larvae migrate through the body, causing tissue damage as they go. Depending on the tissues they travel through, infection can result in a range of clinical signs, from mild through to severe and potentially life threatening.

“Fortunately, severe human disease due to Toxocara roundworms is rarely reported in Australia,” reports Dr Colella. “However, when it does occur it can have potentially life altering consequences, such as a permanent loss of vision when worm larvae migrate through the eye.

“Although these severe consequences are rarely identified, studies have shown that infection with roundworm can be positively associated with asthma in children, as well as potentially cognitive and developmental delays.[4]

“There is a growing body of evidence also linking infection with roundworm with neurodegenerative conditions in older individuals, including Parkinson’s disease and dementia [4], although more rigorous studies are needed to fully understand the significance of these associations.

The effect of weather on infection of animals and humans has been studied throughout the world. Optimal rainfall, humidity, and temperature have all been shown to be associated with an increased risk of human infection with Toxocara roundworms. Given the record-breaking wet weather we have seen recently, it is important that pet owners are aware of the risk and how to manage it.

When it comes to reducing the risk, Dr Colella says that it is about taking sensible precautions. “Dogs and cats are an important part of many Australian families, and we don’t want that to change. Pets can bring untold joy, with pet ownership shown to have a range of positive emotional, physical, and psychological benefits including improved mental wellbeing, increased independence, and increased physical activity,” he said.

Dr Colella added, “To help minimise the risk roundworms pose to people, infectious disease experts recommend promptly picking up and disposing of pet faeces, hand washing after interacting with potentially contaminated soil and objects and deworming dogs monthly with appropriate products. This is important for all dog owners, but particularly so for those with young children who we know are at greatest risk.”

To help reduce the risk of zoonotic disease transmission from pets to people, the Australian Companion Animal Zoonoses Advisory Panel developed a set of guidelines

The panel is comprised of seven independent veterinary and human infectious disease experts and the recommendations include:

✔️ Promptly pick up and dispose of faeces.
✔️ Deworm pets monthly.
✔️ Treat pets for external parasites year-round.
✔️ Regular veterinary health checks for pets.
✔️ Avoid feeding raw meat diets to pets.

Lead Photo: Lana Maltzer from Golden Paws Dog Therapy with her family and pets


[2] The study involved the collection of 1,581 environmental faecal samples from 190 urban parks across the country, with collection taking place from December 2020 to March 2021.

MEDIA RELEASE, 29th April 2024

Related Stories:

Aussies urged to prioritise Pet Health

Beware Canine Intestinal Worms at Dog Parks across Australia


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