Toxocara canis (also known as dog roundworm) is worldwide-distributed helminth parasite of dogs and other canids. T. canis is gonochoristic, adult worms measure from 9 to 18 cm, are yellow-white in color, and occur in the intestine of the definitive host. In adult dogs, the infection is usually asymptomatic. By contrast, massive infection with T. canis can be fatal in puppies. As paratenic hosts, a number of various vertebrates, including humans, and some invertebrates can become infected. Humans are infected, like other paratenic hosts, by ingestion of embryonated T. canis eggs. The disease caused by migrating T. canis larvae (toxocariasis) results in two syndromes: visceralis larva migrans and ocularis larva migrans. Owing to transmission of the infection from bitches to puppies, preventive anthelmintic treatment of newborn puppies is strongly recommended. Several antihelmintic drugs are effective against adult worms, for example pyrantel, fenbendazole, selamectine, etc.
The adult T. canis has a round body with spiky cranial and caudal parts, covered by yellow cuticula. The cranial part of the body contains two lateral alae (length 2–2.5 mm, width 0.2 mm). Male worms measure 9–13 by 0.2–0.25 cm and female worms 10–18 by 0.25–0.3 cm. T. canis eggs have oval or spherical shapes with granulated surfaces, are thick-walled, and measure from 72 to 85 μm.
Four modes of infection are associated with this species. The basic form is typical to all ascaroides, with the egg containing the L2(the second larval developmental stage) being infective, at optimal temperature and humidity, four weeks after secreted in the faeces to the environment. After ingestion and hatching in the small intestine, the L2 larvae travel through the portal blood stream into the liver and lungs. Such migratory route is known as enterohepatic pulmonar larval migration. The second molt takes place in the lungs, the now L3 larvae return via the trachea and into the intestines, where the final two molts take place. This form of infection occurs regularly only in dogs up to three months of age.
In older dogs, this type of migration occurs less frequently, and at six months it is almost ceased. Instead, the L2 travel to a wide range of organs, including the liver, lungs, brain, heart and skeletal muscles, as well as to the walls of the gastrointestinal tract. In pregnant bitches, prenatal infection can occur, where larvae become mobilized (at about three weeks prior to parturition) and migrate to the lungs of the fetus, here molting into the L3 stage just prior to birth. In the newborn pup, the cycle is completed when the larvae migrate through the trachea and into the intestinal lumen, where the final molts take place. Once infected, a bitch will usually harbor sufficient larvae to subsequently infect all of her litters, even if she never again encounters an infection. A certain amount of the bitch's dormant larvae penetrate into the intestinal lumen, where molting into adulthood takes place again, thus leading to a new release of eggs containing L1 larvae.
The suckling pup may be infected by the presence of L3 larvae in the milk during the first three weeks of lactation. There is no migration in the pup via this route. L2 larvae may also be ingested by a variety of animals, where they stay in a dormant stage inside the animals' tissue until the intermediate host has been eaten by a dog, where subsequent development is confined to the gastrointestinal tract.
Transmission to humans
Humans can be infected by this roundworm, a condition called toxocarosis, just by stroking an infected dog's fur. In humans, this parasite usually grows in the back of the eye, which can result in blindness, or in the liver or lungs. However, a 2004 study showed, of 15 infected dogs, only seven had eggs in their coats, and no more than one egg was found on each dog. Furthermore, only 4% of those eggs were infectious. Given the low concentration of fertile eggs on infected dogs' coats (less than 0.00186% per gram), it is plausible that such eggs were transferred to the dog's coat by contact with fecal deposites in the environment, making dog coats the passive transport hosts.
The risk of being infected by petting a dog is extremely limited and, since a single infected puppy can produce more than 100,000 roundworm eggs per gram of feces, humans are much more likely to be infected by contact with feces than contact with fur. As such, little reason exists for humans to fear infection, as long as basic hygiene, such as hand-washing, is followed.
Several treatments, all of which are cheap and easily-accessible by the average dog owner, can prevent a dog from becoming infected or rid an infected pet of its roundworm parasites.
Visceral toxocariasis in humans (or dogs) can be treated with antiparasitic drugs such as albendazole or mebendazole, usually in combination with anti-inflammatory medications. Treatment of ocular toxocariasis is more difficult and usually consists of measures to prevent progressive damage to the eye.
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