While three types of these disgusting beasties sometimes infect people, it’s uncommon and generally preventable. You can only get worms from your pet if he has them, except for tapeworms, which your buddy can share with you by bringing home infected fleas without having the worms himself.
Roundworms are long, stringy parasites that look a lot like a strand of cooked spaghetti. Their eggs get into the soil when an infected pet defecates there, and they can infect you when you touch the area with your bare skin, even if there’s no sign of feces. Gardeners are especially vulnerable if they inadvertently get a bit of tainted soil in their mouths while digging in the dirt. Once they get in, roundworms may set up housekeeping in various spots inside of humans. They can cause all kinds of trouble, including blindness, appendicitis, kidney disease, brain and heart problems.
Fleas act as intermediate hosts for tapeworms. If your pet has tapeworms, it’s likely that any fleas on him or in your house or yard have ingested worm eggs from your pet’s feces, turning them into carriers. Your pet can also pick up infected fleas from the park, the neighbor’s pets or anywhere else fleas hang out. People get tapeworms the same way many pets get them, by swallowing an infected flea. If they’re on your pet, you’re at risk. Depending on the species and where they settle, tapeworms can cause various troubles, including vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, fever and cysts.
Hookworms are tiny and hard to spot, but if your pet has them you can get them from the soil or other areas where he’s relieved himself, even after you clean it up. This parasite lives in your pet’s intestines, but in people it often lives just under the skin, causing a painful, itchy rash. The worms crawl around there until they die, but sometimes they’ll make themselves right at home in your lungs, intestines or other organs. Symptoms depend on where these worms end up, but if you’re infected you may cough, wheeze, have diarrhea or localized pain.
To protect yourself from the small chance that you may contract worms from your furry buddy, make sure to keep your pet properly wormed so that he isn’t carrying these parasites around in the first place. Your vet can suggest a safe and effective wormer. Always wash your hands after cleaning up after your pet, and keep your kitty indoors to minimize his chances of getting worms. Use spot treatments on your pets or another means of controlling fleas, and if your pet should bring home a few tiny passengers from the park, try not to swallow any.
- David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images
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