New York City, NY

Parasitic Toxocara Worm Found in New York Parks Poses Risk to Children

Bridget Mulroy

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Parents and dog owners in New York need to be on high alert.(@Kerkez/iStock)

Parents and pet parents alike are being warned of a worm that has made its way to New York City from Europe.

In cats and dogs, Toxocara worms live in the animals' muscles, feces, and digestive systems. Through the feces of an infected animal, the parasite can be transmitted to humans. “Human toxocariasis has been identified as an under-diagnosed parasitic zoonosis and health disparity of significant public health importance in the United States due to its high seropositivity among socioeconomically disadvantaged groups, and possible links to cognitive and developmental delays,” according to a study by PLOS.

Toxocariasis or Toxocara is “caused by the larval stages of the ascarids Toxocara canis, the common roundworm of dogs, and probably also by the larval stages of Toxocara cati, the roundworm of cats. The clinical spectrum of toxocariasis in humans varies from asymptomatic infection to severe organ injury caused by larval migration to the major organs (“visceral larva migrans”).” A breakdown of the parasite can be found at ScienceDirect.

Toxocara can be contracted via the consumption of contaminated dirt. So while adults are not at direct risk, children and animals are.

Anyone with children or pets, specifically dogs or cats, is urged to avoid the afflicted regions of New York City. Ten out of fifteen playgrounds in the Bronx exhibited Toxocara in the aforementioned PLOS study on “Neglected Tropical Diseases.”

Symptoms in humans have been noted as abdominal pain, fatigue, fever, cough, and rash. In extreme cases, blindness and neurological malformations have occurred.

The PLOS study’s recommended methods of prevention include:

  • “Improved fencing of play areas to prevent feral cat entry
  • Deworming of domestic pets according to national veterinarian guidelines
  • Better control of stray cats and dogs
  • Picking up feces of pets
  • Avoiding consumption of food that may have become contaminated
  • Restriction of children with Pica from play areas
  • Frequent handwashing after visiting play areas before ingestion of food or snacks.”

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