I’m overweight and while I’m not particularly fond of dieting and exercising, there is no way I am going to get in shape by trying the trend popularized recently by young female college graduates in China. These crazy women are actually ingesting roundworm eggs in order to lose weight even though this is known to be harmful to a person’s health.
Once ingested, the roundworm lays eggs that hatch in the stomach and begin feeding on excess fat and molecules in the intestines. When the roundworms in the intestines get out of control, malnutrition and dehydration can be the result. Obviously only thinking of the near future, many young Chinese women have found this to be an acceptable solution for increasing their chances of landing a job in a very tight market.
Roundworms are intestinal parasites common in animals such as dogs and cats. Each animal has a roundworm that is specific to that species and there is a roundworm specific to humans although humans also can become infected with animal roundworms by accidentally ingesting their eggs or larvae. Having direct skin contact with larvae of certain types of roundworms may also cause an infection. Hookworms, for example, may cause an itchy skin condition in humans.
Likewise, some wild animals can become infected with roundworms that are usually specific to humans. A roundworm from a raccoon can cause severe illness in humans. An emerging problem, this epidemic is especially prevalent among children. So it is important to discourage raccoons from living around your home by eliminating access to food, including garbage and pet food.
Fewer than 30 cases of raccoon roundworm have been reported in the United States, with five resulting deaths. In 2009, two cases of raccoon roundworm were identified in New York, leaving an infant dead and a 17-year-old blind in one eye.
Raccoon droppings are dangerous because many contain tiny roundworm eggs that can infect humans and other animals and cause serious illness if accidentally swallowed or inhaled. Although these infections are rare, they can lead to irreversible brain, heart and eye damage and death. Most of the infections have occurred in small children between 9 months to 6 years of age because children between those ages will put almost anything they find into their mouths.
Water, soil or objects that are contaminated with the eggs will infect humans if accidentally ingested. After ingestion, it takes two to four weeks before the infection appears and the eggs can survive for years. The eggs hatch in human intestines and the larvae affect organs and muscles as they move through the body. The symptoms depend on where the larvae have migrated in the body and the number of eggs ingested.
Symptoms of raccoon roundworms can include:
• Lack of attention to surroundings
• Coordination loss
• Muscle control loss
Raccoon roundworms have not been found in Georgia and there is no current cause for concern in our state. But here are two useful bits of information about careful clean-up methods:
• It is important not to use leaf blowers when cleaning up animal droppings. This enlarges the areas of possible roundworm contamination.
• Bleach and other household disinfectants will not kill roundworm eggs. Bleach only loosens the “glue” that holds the eggs in place, making it easier to wash them off a surface.
Anti-parasitic drugs, often in combination with anti-inflammatory medications, are usually successful in treating roundworm infections — other than raccoon roundworm — in people, and we pay millions of dollars in the United States for medications to get rid of them in our pets. It is not uncommon for children to become infected from an untreated pet.
If not treated, symptoms in adults can be mild to non-existent but the disease is more severe in children and may cause fever, coughing, nausea, vomiting and sore muscles. Sometimes infections occur in the eye or brain and these are more difficult to treat.
There are a number of steps that can be taken to prevent roundworm infections in humans. These include:
• Periodic deworming of dogs and cats. Consult with your veterinarian for a recommended schedule. It is especially important to treat puppies and kittens because they are most susceptible to infection.
• Wash your hands well with soap and water after playing with your pets and after outdoor activities, especially before you eat. Teach children to always wash their hands after playing with dogs and cats and after playing outdoors.
• Do not allow children to play in areas that are soiled with pet or other animal stool.
• Clean your pet’s living area at least once a week. Feces should be either buried or bagged and disposed of in the trash.
• Teach small children that it is dangerous to eat dirt or soil and to keep their hands out of their mouths when playing in the dirt.