When Katie Stephens, 22, and Eddie Zytner, 25, returned from a weeklong trip to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, on Thursday, January 18, they couldn't ignore their itchy feet. Although the couple first assumed bug bites were to blame, they were diagnosed with a parasitic infection days later, leading Stephens to share their story on Facebook to raise awareness:
Swollen feet led Zytner and Stephens to visit the hospital several times, but it wasn't until January 22 that they were diagnosed. It took three doctors to identify the infection as cutaneous larva migrans, CTV News reports, which is caused when baby hookworms penetrate unbroken skin and burrow in, according to Daniel Caplivski, MD, associate professor of infectious diseases at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
"I have dozens of worms in my feet, and so does Katie,” Zytner told the Windsor Star on Friday, January 26, at which point both patients were using crutches to walk. “It’s kind of sickening to think about.” He also described the itchiness as "unbearable."
The itching is caused by inflammation that trails the microscopic worm, which can also cause redness and blisters as it moves to different parts of the foot. Although Dr. Caplivski didn't treat the patients, who believe they encountered the parasites while walking on IFA Villas BÃ¡varo Resort & Spa's beach, he says the larva spread in cat and dog feces and often are present in sand where these animals are present. (IFA Villas did not respond to a request for comment regarding its property.)
Although larva migrans can't survive for long inside humans, and typically die within a few days, according to Dr. Caplivski, Stephens and Zytner told Windsor Star they were prescribed ivermectin, an oral anti-parasitic medication that isn't readily available in Canada, and had to obtain the medication from a doctor with a dual-nation license in the United States.
Although Zytner and Stephens expect their infections to go away within the next few weeks, they'll still need to see a specialist to treat the skin damage on their feet, they told CTV News. Stephens declined to provide more information when reached for comment.
Dr. Caplivski says an easy way to sidestep this infection, which is more common in developing countries in than the United States, he adds, is to wear protective footwear on beaches where stray animals and pets roam, and to lie on a towel rather than directly on the sand, since all bare skin is susceptible to the infection.
If you leave the beach feeling itchy, heed Stephen's advice. "Please get it checked out right away," she wrote. "We simply thought it was just bug bites, and it became worse as each day passed."
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