For a Canadian couple, what was supposed to be a week-long, stress-free vacation at the IFA Villas Bavaro Resort in Punta Cana quickly turned into an even longer nightmare. It wasn’t until the two got home that they really realized what had happened; they contracted a parasitic foot infection called larva migrans, commonly known as hookworms.
How the Windsor, Ontario Couple Contracted Larva Migrans or “Hookworms”
Eager to finally begin their vacation, Katie Stephens, 22, and boyfriend Eddie Zytner, 25, started noticing one strange sensation within the first couple of days – itchy feet. It was a sensation that would accompany the couple wherever they went.
“For a lot of our trip, we found that we were scratching our feet quite a bit,” Zytner told CTV during a telephone interview. “Sand fleas we had heard about so we kind of assumed it was that at first.”
Although they suffered from itchy feet throughout the trip, it didn’t get worse until January 19, 2018, a day after they had returned home from Punta Cana. By Sunday evening, Zytner and Stephens’ feet started to swell up. In addition to the swelling, they noticed small bumps forming on their toes.
“I had a lot of itchiness during the trip,” she said. “I think I might have complained about it a little bit more that my feet were really itchy, but mine didn’t start swelling and everything until about the Sunday night.”
Three Is the Charm
After seeing two doctors who chalked their swelling and itching symptoms up to sand fleas, another one finally recognized the condition. He had apparently seen a similar case in someone who had just returned home from a trip to South-East Asia.
Finally, Zytner and Stephens had received a diagnosis. It was cutaneous larva migrans (hookworms), which is transmitted when contaminated soil or sand meets skin.
The doctor advised them to take an effective drug called ivermectin and sent Health Canada a request for the medication.
“We found out that Health Canada had denied our request to receive the medication saying our case wasn’t severe enough,” said Stephens. “At that point, that’s when we freaked out a little.”
The Couple’s Recovery from Hookworms
However, because ivermectin is not licensed in Canada, Zytner’s mother was forced to drive to Detroit and pay CAD$88 for the medication. The couple’s now on the road to recovery and speaking to a specialist to help fix the skin damage their feet suffered.
“[My feet] feel better,” Zytner said. “They looked a little bit better yesterday. We’re getting our bandages changed again… so we’ll have another chance to look at them and see how it’s progressing.”
Now, the couple just wants to warn others about the risks of walking barefoot in the sand, especially if you’re vacationing in the Caribbean.
“We want to make it known to more doctors what it is, what to look for and stuff because it took us a few trips to the hospital to find out what it was.”
“If your feet become incredibly itchy please get it checked out right away since we simply thought it was just bug bites and it became worse as each day passed,” Stephens said.
A Closer Look at Cutaneous Larva Migrans (Hookworms)
Dating back more than one-hundred years, hookworms are the most common tropical skin disease you can contract. The parasitic infection stems from eggs that are passed from animal fecal matter into warm and moist soil or sand.
Fortunately for humans, a parasitic infection such as hookworms is sort of the best possible accident because they are self-limiting. Since hookworm larvae do not actually possess sufficient collagenase, they are unable to penetrate and invade the dermis (i.e., the layer right below your outermost layer of skin).
Doctors usually treat hookworms and other parasitic infections with medications such as albendazole or invermectin. Be sure to consult your own doctor or health practitioner before using any of the above drugs on your own.
Hookworm Symptoms and Signs to Watch Out For!
You can spot hookworms through a skin infection called “creeping eruption,” which can lead to the following hookworm symptoms:
- Severe itching
- Red growing, winding rash
- Usually appear 1 to 5 days after skin penetration (but can take up to a month)
The Single-Best Way to Prevent a Parasitic Infection Such as Hookworms
According to the CDC, you should:
- Avoid walking barefoot in areas where hookworm is common, or where there may be fecal contamination in sand or soil
- Avoid skin-to-sand-or-soil contact
- Always wear flip-flops or sandals in these areas
Believe it or not, parasitic infections are far more common than we think… That’s why we’ve put so much time into covering how to get rid of them safely and naturally in the articles below:
- 7 Signs You Have a Parasite and 9 Foods to Get Rid of It Naturally
- Warning Signs That Your Body Is Already Plagued by Parasites
 Dunham, J. (2018, January 26). Ont. couple contract ‘hookworms’ on Punta Cana vacation. Retrieved February 02, 2018, from https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/ont-couple-contract-hookworms-on-punta-cana-vacation-1.3777198
 Patel, A. (2018, February 01). Ontario couple contract parasitic foot infection after Caribbean vacation. Retrieved February 02, 2018, from https://globalnews.ca/news/3992746/couple-hookworm-punta-cana/
 Bowerman, M. (2018, January 30). Couple contract parasitic hookworm in feet after walking on Punta Cana beach. Retrieved February 02, 2018, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/01/29/couple-contract-parasitic-hookworm-feet-after-walking-punta-cana-beach/1073974001/
 Cutaneous Larva Migrans. (2017, September 13). Retrieved February 02, 2018, from https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1108784-overview#a4
 Travelers’ Health. (2017, May 31). Retrieved February 02, 2018, from https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2018/infectious-diseases-related-to-travel/cutaneous-larva-migrans
 Hookworm Infection: Creeping Eruption. (n.d.). Retrieved February 02, 2018, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/dermatology/creeping_eruption_85,P00272
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