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Couple Contracted Hookworm After Walking Barefoot On The Beach

Here's how to protect yourself.

Getty Images | Justin Sullivan

A long walk on the beach with your significant other sounds super romantic, right? Maybe not. One Canadian couple seems to have gotten more than they bargained for. They say they contracted parasitic hookworm after taking an intimate walk on the beach.

Katie Stephens says she and her boyfriend, Eddie Zytner, went on vacation in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, where they took advantage of their proximity to the beach. After returning from their trip, however, they discovered they had larva migrans, a type of parasite common in tropical and subtropical geographic areas, as well as in the southwestern United States.

The couple’s feet became swollen, and filled with painful blisters that made it difficult to walk. After getting diagnosed, they were prescribed Ivermectin, a drug that treats parasites, which they had to obtain from the United States.

Stephens took to Facebook to share their ordeal and warn others about this problem:

Alongside graphic photos of their affected feet, Stephens wrote, “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.” The couple believes they contracted the hookworm after walking barefoot on the beach.

Is This Even Possible?

“Cutaneous larva migrans basically means there is a larva, or the immature form of a hookworm, migrating around under the skin,” Bobbi S. Pritt, parasitologist at the Mayo Clinic, told BuzzFeed News. The larvae come from contaminated dog or cat feces. “The hookworm eggs come out of the stool and hatch in the sand or soil,” she explained, “where they live until an unsuspecting human walks on them barefoot.”

Because the hookworms cannot complete their life cycle in humans, they will die, usually within a few weeks. In the meantime, though, the condition can become painful. In addition to severe itching, you may notice what appears to be a rash or insect bite, which will turn into a snake-shaped blister. Treatment with medication will kill the larvae and ease symptoms.

As for locale, hookworm larvae do live in soil and sand, and can penetrate the skin, so it is possible that this is how Stephens and Zytner contracted the parasite. If you’re traveling to one of the above-mentioned areas where hookworms are known to be prevalent, there are steps you can take to prevent them from penetrating your skin.

How To Protect Yourself From A Hookworm Infection

Pritt recommends wearing closed-toe shoes on the beach, and asking ahead if a beach you plan to visit is private so that dogs and cats cannot get in.

“[A hookworm infection] is preventable by wearing shoes and taking measures to avoid skin contact with the sand or soil,” Dr. Jennifer Wider, a women’s health expert, told Women’s Health.”Travelers to tropical areas with beaches should be advised to take precautions!”

And because hookworms are not the only potential health-related problem you can encounter when traveling, Pritt also advises going to a travel clinic prior to your trip to assess if any medications or vaccinations are needed.

Stay safe out there everyone!