Hookworms are one of the most frequent parasitic infections found in pets worldwide. Unfortunately, all FDA-approved medicines used by veterinarians to kill these parasites have been proven ineffective.
They grip onto an animal's intestines with their hooklike jaws, feasting on tissue fluids and blood. As a result, infected animals may suffer from severe weight loss, bloody feces, anemia, and lethargy, among other symptoms.
According to new research from the University of Georgia, they've developed multidrug resistance.
Hard to Eradicate
Currently, veterinarians in the United States use three different medicines to eradicate hookworms, but the parasites appear to be developing resistance to all of them. This alarming development was first reported in 2019 by researchers from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. In addition, new research published recently in the International Journal for Parasitology: Drugs and Drug Resistance sheds more light on where the problem began and how bad it's gotten since then.
Researchers focused on current and retired racing greyhounds for their study. Due to the sandy dirt of the facility, which is an ideal breeding environment for hookworms, dog racetracks are particularly favorable to the parasite's proliferation. In addition, due to the circumstances, all of the dogs are dewormed every three to four weeks.
The parasites were discovered to be very widespread in the breed after the researchers analyzed fecal samples from greyhound adoption kennels, three veterinary offices that interact with adoption groups, and an active racing kennel. Hookworms were found in four out of every five greyhounds tested. According to Ray Kaplan, the study's corresponding author and a retired professor of veterinary parasitology at UGA, those who tested negative are very undoubtedly sick.
Hookworms can "hide" in tissues, where they will not proliferate or shed eggs until the illness develops and the infection seeps into the dog's intestines.
But, perhaps more concerning, the researchers discovered that even after the dogs had been treated for hookworms, they still had significant infection levels.
This is the first time that widespread multiple-drug resistance in a dog parasite has been documented anywhere globally.
There are many more possibilities for parasites to acquire uncommon mutations that allow them to survive dewormer treatments in settings where there are many dogs afflicted with many parasites, such as on racing dog breeding farms and kennels. If dewormers are used regularly, the newly emerged resistant worms will live and pass on the mutation to avoid the medication to their progeny.
Most of the drug-susceptible worms at the farm or kennel will be killed after many treatments, and resistant worms will take control.
To make matters worse, veterinarians seldom test animals after treatment to confirm that the worms are gone. Thus drug-resistant worms go undiscovered until the dog is infected to the point of displaying indications of hookworm illness.
Dog parks are one probable breeding site for a potential drug-resistant hookworm epidemic, as well as a popular area for dog owners to exercise their pets.
For dogs to become infected, they do not have to eat the worms. Instead, hookworm larvae can burrow through the dog's skin and paws and reside in the soil. Female dogs can also transmit the parasite to their puppies via their milk.
Not only that, but canine hookworms may also infect people.
People don't get the illness in the same manner, but when the worms pierce the skin, they create a red, itchy rash as they move beneath it. Humans will be at risk as to the number of drug-resistant worms increases.
Previously, doctors would use an ointment that contained both a dewormer and a corticosteroid to treat patients. But, unfortunately, that won't work against these drug-resistant hookworms, according to Kaplan.
But all hope is not lost.
In another recent study, Kaplan and Pablo Jimenez Castro, the study's lead author and a recent doctoral graduate from Kaplan's lab, discovered that these multidrug-resistant dog hookworms appear susceptible to emodepside. This dewormer is currently only approved for use in cats in the United States. However, a veterinarian should only use this cat medication on dogs because it necessitates veterinary knowledge and supervision.
The American Association of Veterinary Parasitologists has created a national task group to address the issue of medication resistance in canine hookworms, based in part on Castro's study.
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