While having fun on the playground, many American children are exposed to parasites that could meddle with the function of their liver, eyesight, breathing or even intelligence. The parasites are roundworms of the genus Toxocara. These parasites are found in the intestines of stray cats and dogs. Many scientists have not studied the infection caused by the parasites, and not many doctors are aware of its existence. According to scientists, the eggs from Toxocara are shed in the feces of the animal, therefore contaminating playgrounds and sandboxes. While playing, the infectious particles stick to the children’s hands. If they are swallowed, the eggs do not take long to hatch and release larvae. The larvae move through the body and may even reach the brain, interfering with learning.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey carried out a research which indicated that at least five percent of the residents of United States carry the antibodies of Toxocara. This suggests that at least 16 million people have swallowed the eggs. This research was published in the Clinical Infectious Disease Journal, the September issue. Out of the number of exposed individuals, the majority are from poor background. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that the prevalence of the infection is at seven percent among African Americans, and is at 10 percent among those people living below the poverty line. According to the dean of National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Peter Hotez, Toxocara is not only part of the most common parasites in the United States, but it is also the most neglected. The parasite is also linked to epilepsy.
Dr. Peter Hotez says that the information that is so far known about this parasite is enough to warrant a study. Dog owners who often take their pets for regular veterinary care have no reason to worry since their dogs can rarely carry Toxocara. A different survey made it clear that poor neighborhoods have more stray animals than other areas. In Dallas, one study indicated that at least 8,700 unowned dogs were moving about. A survey was also carried out on New York Playgrounds, revealing that nine out of the 21 sampled playgrounds had Toxocara eggs. Individuals who are infected by this parasites exhibit signs such as fatigue, cough, abdominal pain, and slight fever, symptoms that are similar to those of other illnesses. Only a few doctors think of testing for Toxocara.