A few UK news outlets published a story the other day about a toddler with a severe eye infection that was attributed to Toxocara canis, the canine roundworm. Some parts of it didn’t make a lot of sense so I held off commenting, but the story’s spreading more widely now so I might as well raise a few issues.

The story is about a toddler that fell into a pile of dog feces while playing at the park, then wiped her eye. Her mother took her right home and washed the eye out. Then, according to the BBC:

"She woke up in the early hours screaming and her eye was bright purple and red and swollen shut with the eyelashes inside. She had a temperature and was very lethargic and in a lot of pain." Hospital tests confirmed toxocariasis, which resulted in Amiee contracting optical lobe cellulosis, which can lead to blindness and death if not treated within 72 hours.

Here’s where I start to get confused. Eye infections are one problem cause by Toxocara canis. However, the disease (ocular larva migrans) develops when someone ingests infectious T. canis larvae from feces. It takes a few days to a few weeks after being passed in feces before the larvae become infective, so this would have to have been a pile of old feces (something that’s certainly possible).

Nonetheless, as I said, ocular larva migrans develops when someone ingests the larvae, which then migrate out of the intestinal tract, journey through the body and end up in the eye. This doesn’t happen in a few hours, as is described here. It takes much longer. Even if infective T. canis larvae were injected in the eye, you wouldn’t see the type of severe inflammation around the eye that is shown in the picture on the BBC website. Fever is also rarely present with ocular larva migrans. The parasite gradually causes inflammation within the eye, not around it.

The girl is being treated with 3 antibiotics and an eye ointment. Again, this makes no sense for toxocariasis, since it’s a parasitic infection within the eye. Antibiotics aren’t going to be useful.

The rapidity of onset, the involvement of tissues around the eye, the presence of a fever and the reported treatment suggest to me that this is actually a bacterial infection of the eye and surrounding tissues, something that certainly could be related to the multitude of bacteria present in dog feces.

Regardless of the cause, the notion that dog owners need to be responsible and clean up after their dogs remains. Let’s hope the physicians know what’s going on and are treating Amiee properly.

  • Dr. Guay

    Scott, Thank goodness you are a voice of reason in the vast internet wilderness of misinformation…