Trav­el­ling to a beach? Pack wa­ter shoes

On­tario va­ca­tion­ers’ feet in­fested with hook­worms after walk­ing bare­foot dur­ing Caribbean hol­i­day

StarMetro Halifax - - DAILY LIFE - Carola Vy­h­nak SPE­CIAL TO THE STAR

“I SWEAR I COULD FEEL THEM MOV­ING.” Tara Benedek, va­ca­tioner

Seven Mile Beach in Ne­gril, Ja­maica, is “leg­endary for its silky white sands,” pro­claims a ho­tel web­site.

But for four friends who spent a week at the beach re­sort last month, those sands yielded a hid­den hor­ror: hook­worms that at­tacked their feet and dis­rupted their lives for weeks.

Within days of her re­turn home in mid-oc­to­ber, Tara Benedek says she de­vel­oped vi­brant red squig­gly lines ac­com­pa­nied by ex­cru­ci­at­ing itch­i­ness and burn­ing in her feet. She was left in tears and un­able to sleep.

“I swear I could feel them mov­ing,” re­calls the reg­is­tered nurse from Oro-medonte near Bar­rie, Ont. “If there was a saw by my bed, I would have taken my feet off.”

Two weeks later she was still off work and un­avail­able to her fam­ily due to ex­haus­tion from “zero sleep.”

Benedek and three oth­ers from a group of 20 friends who va­ca­tioned in Ne­gril had be­come un­wit­ting hosts to a par­a­site called cu­ta­neous larva mi­grans or hook­worm — named for its hook­like mouth parts. Nor­mally found in the in­nards of in­fected dogs and cats, the worms can bur­row into hu­man skin that comes in con­tact with sand con­tam­i­nated by fe­ces con­tain­ing lar­vae.

“They mi­grate around the skin say­ing ‘where the hell are we?’ ” says Dr. Jay Key­stone, a travel and trop­i­cal medicine spe­cial­ist in Toronto.

In ad­di­tion to ag­o­niz­ing itch­i­ness, the in­fec­tion can cause swelling, blis­ters and in­som­nia from the con­stant tor­ment.

A sec­ondary in­fec­tion can oc­ca­sion­ally set in but oth­er­wise the worms don’t cause se­ri­ous prob­lems or find their way into hu­man in­testines, says Key­stone. Left alone, they even­tu­ally die but that can take months, he adds.

Iver­mectin, an oral med­i­ca­tion used to treat the in­fec­tion, has only just come on the mar­ket in Canada, says Key­stone, who hopes it will be widely avail­able at phar­ma­cies in a month or two.

He rec­om­mends avoid­ing con­tact with sand or soil by wear­ing wa­ter shoes on the beach — san­dals are no help — and ly­ing on a lounge chair rather than di­rectly on the sand. There’s no pre­ven­tive med­i­ca­tion for hook­worm.

The in­fec­tion is “very com­mon,” with dozens of va­ca­tion­ers, usu­ally from the Caribbean, show­ing up at Toronto General Hos­pi­tal’s Trop­i­cal Dis­ease Unit over the fall and win­ter travel sea­son, Key­stone says.

That’s where Benedek and her friends ended up after their quest for treat­ment opened a whole other can of worms when fam­ily doc­tors and walk-in clin­ics proved in­ca­pable of prop­erly di­ag­nos­ing or treat­ing the af­flic­tion.

“Even the physi­cians we dealt with were googling it,” says Benedek.

“I’ll never, ever walk bare­foot on the beach again,” swears Benedek. Read more at thes­tar.com/health

MOE DOIRON/TORONTO STAR

Tara Benedek, left, and Brigitte May are two of a group of friends who re­turned home from a Ja­maican va­ca­tion with hook­worm par­a­site in­fec­tions in their feet. The itch­i­ness from the worms un­der their skin was al­most un­bear­able.

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