Toxocariasis is a serious medical condition that’s both unpleasant and dangerous for your health. Besides, it comes from roundworm parasites that typically live in dogs, cats, and foxes. It can lead to various health complications, ranging from mild to severe. Hence, knowing the signs, symptoms, and treatments is essential. Read on to learn everything from how to prevent it to what to do if you’re infected.
What is Toxocariasis?
Toxocariasis is an infection caused by a roundworm parasite found in the intestine of dogs and cats. Its scientific name is Toxocara canis or Toxocara cati, also present in foxes. Typically, they spread by ingesting eggs or larvae in the soil. When these eggs or larvae enter the human body, they can cause various symptoms depending on the stage of infection.
In most cases, the symptoms vary depending on the severity of the case. However, they may lead from fever to vision loss. That’s why it’s crucial to perform serologic testing to diagnose the condition. In this regard, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends treatment with antihelminthic drugs.
What Are The Different Forms of Toxocariasis?
Toxocariasis can manifest in two different forms, ocular and visceral. The ocular form is an infection of the Toxocara canis parasite, which is present in dogs and other canines. It results in inflammation of the eye and can cause vision loss. Visceral larva migrans (VLM) is a more severe form since the larvae migrate to various organs and tissues.
Symptoms of Toxocariasis
- Ocular Toxocariasis: This form comes from Toxocara larvae migrating to the eye. Symptoms may include blurred vision, eye pain and pressure, floaters, and vision loss.
- Visceral Larva Migrans (VLM): If larvae migrate to other organs in the body, VLM may occur. Symptoms of VLM may include fever, rash, swollen lymph nodes, coughing, wheezing, and liver or spleen enlargement.
- Cutaneous Larva Migrans: This occurs when larvae migrate to the skin and cause intense itching. A red line or rash may also appear on the skin.
- Eosinophilic Meningitis: Eosinophilic meningitis may occur if larvae invade the central nervous system. Symptoms include fever, headache, stiff neck, and neurological problems such as seizures.
How to Diagnose Toxocariasis?
The diagnosis requires serologic testing for the presence of IgG antibodies to Toxocara canis, the dog roundworm. A positive result may indicate past or current infection. Usually, medical experts confirm the diagnosis with a physical examination and imaging studies. Moreover, an ophthalmologic exam may be necessary to evaluate for Ocular Toxocariasis, which can cause vision loss.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends collecting and testing stool samples for Toxocara eggs. This can help identify infections in individuals who have had contact with cats, dogs, or foxes that have the disease. If a person suspects Visceral Larva Migrans (VLM) contraction, proper identification may require taking a tissue sample.
Toxocariasis is a parasitic infection caused by roundworm parasites, Toxocara canis, and Toxocara cati. Undoubtedly, the best way to treat the condition is to prevent it from happening. If it does occur, several treatment options are available depending on the type and severity of the infection.
The most common form of treatment for Toxocariasis is an antiparasitic medication. These medications kill the parasites in the body and clear up the infection. Common medications include albendazole, mebendazole, ivermectin, thiabendazole, and praziquantel.
Healthcare providers often prescribe corticosteroids, as they can help reduce inflammation caused by the parasites. On the other hand, they may also reduce vision loss caused by Ocular Toxocariasis.
Sometimes, surgery may be necessary to remove any larva or eggs lodged in the tissues or organs. This is usually only done in severe visceral larva migrans (VLM) cases. Surgery can also treat vision loss caused by the Ocular form.
Immunotherapy can sometimes treat the condition by boosting the immune system to fight off the infection. It involves administering a series of injections over a period of time to help build up the body’s defenses against the parasites.
If a person has Ocular Toxocariasis, they will need regular eye care to prevent further vision loss. This may involve using eye drops to reduce inflammation and improve vision. Regular visits to an ophthalmologist are necessary to monitor the condition and ensure that any vision changes are caught early.
How to Prevent Toxocariasis?
Preventing Toxocariasis begins with controlling the populations of dogs, cats, and foxes that can carry the parasite. Consequently, pet sterilization and keeping a close eye on non-neutered animals are crucial. Moreover, owners should practice good hygiene when handling their pets and properly dispose of their waste.
It is also essential to keep your yard clean to reduce the amount of Toxocara eggs in your environment. Wear protective clothing and gloves to minimize the chance of larvae entering your body through open wounds when gardening. It is also important to keep small children away from areas where animals may have defecated.
Can Toxocariasis cause long-term health problems?
Yes, Toxocariasis can cause severe damage to the lungs, brain, eyes, and other organs. It can also cause vision loss or permanent blindness.
Can Toxocariasis be passed from person to person?
No, Toxocariasis is not contagious and cannot spread between people.
Are there any alternative treatments for Toxocariasis?
Treatment for Toxocariasis depends on the form and severity of the infection. For mild cases, experts may suggest natural remedies like herbs, vitamins, and dietary changes. More severe cases may require more aggressive treatments such as antiparasitic medications or surgery.