Tiny, contagious worms are invading New York City parks: parents should be aware

The eggs of a tiny, parasitic worm have been found in parks in New York and Europe – and they may be infecting your children.

In recent years, toxocara — tiny worms that live in the muscles and digestive systems of animals — have been found in parks in all five boroughs of New York City. The parasite can be passed on to others and infect people through cat or dog feces.

While the worms can’t be easily transmitted to humans, they can be if a person consumes infected dirt — which has researchers growing concerned that children could consume these worms while playing in city parks.

Most infections are asymptomatic, but some have fever, fatigue, cough, rash, or abdominal pain. In rare and worrying cases, the parasite can get into the eye and cause blindness and neurological damage to the brain.

The CDC reported that nearly 14% of the US population has been exposed to the parasite, with an estimated 70 people, mostly children, being blinded by toxocariasis.

However, researchers suspect that the number of infections is underreported.

“People, especially those with children, who tend to play in the sand or in the ground should know about Toxocara. Pet owners should be aware that their dogs can be infected by something they eat off the ground,” Donna Tyungu, lead author of a 2020 New York research paper and pediatric infectious disease specialist, told The Guardian.

Toxocara worms were found in all five counties
In NYC, lower-income neighborhoods reported higher levels of the parasite.

In NYC counties, lower-income neighborhoods reported higher levels of the parasite. with most found in the Bronx, where 67% of playgrounds contained Toxocara eggs, according to the New York study.

The study also found that 39% of Staten Island parks, 33% of Queens parks, 31% of Brooklyn parks, and 30% of Manhattan parks had parasite eggs in the soil.

“I think their discovery of Toxocara is both important and unsurprising,” Thomas Nutman, head of the Infestation Laboratory at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told The Guardian. “It’s really important for us to understand that these neglected tropical diseases – Toxocara is one of them – are still a huge problem, the magnitude of which we don’t yet know because we haven’t really looked around.”

They also found that the majority of Toxocara eggs across New York City tend to be of a species specific to cats rather than dogs.

Researchers have also found the worm eggs in playgrounds, including in European countries such as Germany and Spain.

Toxocara worms and their eggs can survive harsh winters in their animal hosts’ soil and thrive throughout the summer. To avoid infection, pets should be dewormed and parents should make sure their children wash their hands before eating. Tiny, contagious worms are invading New York City parks: parents should be aware


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