Dangerous Parasite Found in Colorado River Poses Risk to Dogs

(ReliableNews.org) – Dogs are a man’s (and woman’s) best friend. They become members of the family. For the first time, scientists have found a parasite in a river in California that can kill the family pet.

A study from the University of California, Riverside (UCR), recently revealed the presence of a parasite in the stretch of the Colorado River in California that had only been found in the Gulf states before. Heterobilharzia americana, commonly known as liver fluke, is a flatworm that can cause an infection that kills dogs.

Researchers learned that several dogs were infected with the parasite while swimming in the river in Blythe, a border city east of Joshua Tree National Park on the border with Arizona. The team of scientists collected over 2,000 snails from the riverbank. They then used DNA testing to identify the snails and flatworms.

The flatworm transforms itself inside the snail, then ventures out into the water, looking for a mammal to infect. Once out of the snail, the worm can only survive about 24 hours. Once inside a host’s intestinal lining, the parasite develops into an adult and reproduces.

Adler Dillman, a UCR nematology professor, said the researchers wanted to warn the public that their “pets are in peril” if they allow them to swim in the Colorado River. He explained that the parasite’s eggs get into the heart, liver, spleen, and lungs. Eventually, as the body tries to fight off the infection, the organ tissues will stop working.

The professor also said that the team found two species of snails in the river that can support the parasite, and “both snails [were] actively shedding this worm.” He expressed surprise that the scientists found the parasite and the snails, saying they didn’t know either were there.

Once an animal becomes infected, it can take months for symptoms to develop. Those symptoms include loss of appetite, profound weight loss, vomiting, liver disease, and diarrhea. Experts advise people who have allowed their dogs to swim in the river to take them to the vet for a fecal test.

At least 11 dogs have been infected in California in the last five years and one has died.

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