Florida-- sun, sand, and hookworms. The climate in Florida is ideal for the development of hookworm larvae in the environment. And since several species can be transmitted to people, this can be dangerous.

What is hookworm? The hookworm is an intestinal parasite commonly found in dogs and cats. In the animal host the life cycle is as follows:
The egg is passed in the stool. Under proper conditions (temperature, moisture, etc), the egg develops into a larva in one to two days. The larva goes through a few stages (molts) and becomes infective, this is called the third stage or L3 larva. This larva can survive in the environment for three to four weeks if conditions are favorable. There are now two possibilities, an animal host or a human host comes along.

In the dog or cat, the larva will penetrate the skin and travel through the bloodstream to the heart. From the heart, it enters the lungs and migrates up the airways. When it reaches the back of the throat (pharynx), it is then swallowed and enters the intestinal tract. Once in the small intestine, it can develop into an adult and reproduce, so the cycle starts all over again. The adult worm lives attached to the walls of the intestine. If your female dog is pregnant, the worm is able to pass through the mammary tissue and infect the puppies.

Since humans are not a true host for many of the hookworm species, the full life cycle cannot occur. The larva enters through exposed skin, such as the feet, and moves around under the skin causing red lines and severe itching and pain. This condition is known as cutaneous larval migrans. There is no specific test, it is diagnosed based on clinical signs and potential exposure. In the humans, the larvae cannot survive for longer than five to six weeks. It can be treated with anti-parasitic medications if your doctor feels bit is necessary to help decrease the signs. Scratching the areas will lead to secondary bacterial infections.

So what can you do to prevent this disease? Since the eggs are passed into the environment in the feces, cleaning the yard on a regular basis is beneficial. If the eggs are not in the environment for very long, they cannot develop into the larval form and be spread. All pets should go to the veterinarian for regular fecal checks (at least once a year). This is especially important for puppies and kittens. So, even though your new pet may have been dewormed once, you should check a sample again to make sure that all the parasites have been removed. The use of heartworm prevention will also deworm for intestinal parasites monthly, so this is extremely beneficial for your animal's health, as well as yours. Good hygiene practices are helpful to decrease disease as well-- wash your hands after working or playing in the yard and after handling pets. Decrease exposure of skin to potentially contaminated soil or sand by wearing shoes and other protective clothing, such as gloves when gardening. It is also important to limit children's access to potentially contaminated areas, such as unprotected sandboxes.

Although we are all at risk for exposure, certain people have a higher risk-- plumbers and electricians and others who have to crawl under raised buildings, sunbathers and children.

Also, remember that areas, where there are more animals roaming around without proper veterinary care, will increase the risk in those areas. Hookworm is found everywhere in the world. In the United States, it is more common on the East Coast.

If you think you may have been exposed, please contact your medical doctor.