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Experts Warn Parasite Spreading Across The U.S. Could Be Deadly To Pets

According to a study conducted by the University of California, Riverside, a parasite with the potential to fatally harm dogs has been found in the Colorado River in Southern California, marking the first known instance of its presence in the area.

The parasite is a type of flatworm called Heterobilharzia americana, more commonly known as a liver fluke.

The presence of this parasite is commonly found in Texas and other Gulf states, but this is the first time it has been reported to have extended to the west.

According to UC Riverside nematology professor Adler Dillman, it is crucial to raise public awareness about this infection as it can be fatal for dogs. He stated to the UC Riverside News that if your pets are swimming in the Colorado River, they are at risk.

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A team of researchers from the school traveled to Blythe, California, which is located on the border with Arizona. They gathered and examined 2,000 snails from the banks of the Colorado River after discovering that multiple dogs who had been infected with the parasite had been swimming in the same area.

The study said the findings suggest “a wider distribution [of the parasite] than previously reported. Our findings have implications for public health, veterinary medicine, and biodiversity conservation, contributing to developing effective control strategies to prevent the spread of this emerging infectious disease.”

“In our study, we successfully confirmed the presence of Heterobilharzia americana for the first time along the shores of the Colorado River, infecting two species of snails, Galba humilis and Galba cubensis,” the study authors said. “This significant finding marks the westernmost record of this endemic North American schistosome in the U.S. The identification of the parasite in an area with a documented history of canine schistosomiasis emphasizes the persistence and potential expansion of this parasitic threat.”

The Gulf Coast and South Atlantic regions of North America are known to be home to Heterobilharzia americana, but the parasite has also now been detected in other states including Indiana, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and most recently, Utah.

The study revealed that, aside from dogs, it has the ability to contaminate other mammals like raccoons, marsh rabbits, horses, nutria, bobcats, mountain lions, and opossums.

After entering the body, the parasite moves towards the lungs and has the potential to lead to bleeding.

According to experts, the parasite will enter the veins of the intestinal lining and grow into an adult. The issue does not lie in the presence of the adult parasites in the veins, but rather in the eggs that reach various organs such as the lungs, spleen, liver, and heart. The immune system attempts to combat the infection, leading to the formation of hard clusters of immune cells known as granulomas. Eventually, this leads to the dysfunction of the affected organs.

The UC Riverside News reports the disease has been verified in eleven dogs across three counties, resulting in one fatality. The symptoms, which may not appear for several months, include a decrease in appetite, followed by vomiting, diarrhea, significant weight loss, and indications of liver disorder.

The typical course of treatment for a dog involves administering various medications and closely monitoring the animal under the supervision of a veterinarian.