New Guinea Flatworms found in Pinellas County could pose risk to animals, humans

Pinellas County

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – They’re slimy, ugly and potentially dangerous.

The worm itself, poses no health concerns. But it could be hosting a dangerous parasite having veterinarians concerned.

Imported from New Guinea off the coast of Australia, the New Guinea Flatworm is showing up in Mid-Pinellas County living in the dirt, potted plants and under rocks.

Dr. Michael Rumore from the Lake Seminole Animal Hospital has heard of three cases in recent weeks.

“The worm itself is not a problem. It’s what the worm contains which is another parasite called the Rat Lungworm,” said Dr. Rumore. “If it gets into a mammal’s system like a person or a dog, can cause severe problems, even paralysis, and death.”

At the Walsingham dog park, dogs play around mulch, grass, and dirt.

“I thought somebody saw one in the park here recently,” said dog owner, David Goldberg. Goldberg says it’s hard to keep track of what his dog gets into. “Dogs are always trying to eat something. You try to watch them most of the time, but there’s always that chance that they could get something” said Goldberg.

New Guinea Flatworms are a non-native species.

“If you see something like this, first off, don’t touch it.  If you do touch it, you need to wash your hands really really well,” said Dr. Rumore.

So far, Dr. Rumore hasn’t seen any infected animals. If one does come in, treatments are limited.

“You can try to keep them comfortable while the worm is dying off in their system.  Even using de-worming drugs, that you would think would help with worms actually can increase the chance of death in dogs,” said Dr. Rumore.

In order to kill the worm, the FWC recommends pouring boiling water on it.

However, you have to eat the worm to get the parasite. So dog parents need to be watchful.

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