Study: 'Teach Children That It Is Dangerous to Eat Dirt or Soil'

In one community, 3.7 billion parasites are released daily via dog poop. Researchers propose a handy model for determining people's risk of subsequent Toxocara infections.

2099956708_37d5a913e6_z615.jpg
Robert S. Donovan/Flickr

PROBLEM: Toxacora, parasitic worms that grow in the intestines of puppies and kittens, release their eggs into the environment via the puppies' and kittens' feces. When the eggs worm their way into the soil or other surfaces on which puppies and kittens poop, and are then accidentally ingested by humans (people not washing their hands after gardening or kids playing in the dirt), the resulting infection, or toxocariasis, can cause vision loss and possibly even asthma and epilepsy. So knowing where to focus control efforts can help prevent any of that from happening.

METHODOLOGY: "In the interests of protecting public health," researchers at the University of Bristol's School of Veterinary Sciences estimated the relative contributions of Toxocara by dogs, cats, and foxes in Bristol, using data on the amount of animal waste produced each day in the city and the female Toxocara's egg-laying ability.

RESULTS: Each day, dogs in Bristol, U.K., produce about four tons of waste. Contained within those four tons of poop are about 3.7 billion Toxicara eggs, or, for a more engaging if not entirely relevant visual, "a number close to the world's human population every two days."

Puppies under the age of 12 weeks were found to "dominate" total egg output.

Medical providers, local communities, and the public wellness movement. See full coverage

CONCLUSION: Dogs are a major source of the parasite Toxocara, meaning their poop, when not bagged and properly disposed of, has strong potential to contaminate the public environment and infect humans.

IMPLICATIONS: How much a particular city is at risk of toxocariasis depends on how many animals are defecating in the streets and how much of that gets picked up and properly disposed of. Also, on whether people are deworming their puppies. The methods used to determine these numbers are easily replicable, say the researchers, so individual communities can estimate their own levels of contamination. In the meantime, the CDC recommends that parents "teach children that it is dangerous to eat dirt or soil." Healthy habits begin at home.

The full study, "Quantifying sources of environmental contamination with Toxocara spp. eggs," is published in the journal Veterinary Parasitology.

Presented by

Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This wildly inventive short film takes you on a whirling, spinning tour of the Big Apple

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

Video

The Faces of #BlackLivesMatter

Scenes from a recent protest in New York City

Video

Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life

The Supreme Court justice talks gender equality and marriage.

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

More in Health

Just In