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Dog-Killing Flatworms Found in Southern California

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Experts have issued a warning to dog owners in Southern California following the discovery of a dog-killing flatworm species in the Colorado River. The deadly internal parasite, scientifically known as Heterobilharzia americana (H. americana) was initially thought to only exist in Louisiana, Texas, Florida, and other states on the Gulf Coast.

Experts now fear this latest discovery only means the potentially fatal parasite, referred to as liver fluke in non-scientific terms, is spreading fast and wide.

The research team from the University of California Riverside (UCR) tested for the presence of the flatworm in the Colorado River — which runs through Southern California — after an increase in cases of local dogs infected with the parasite.

Dog-killing worms found in California for the very first time

According to USA Today, H. americana is transmitted through a specific species of snails found in water bodies. In other words, these snail species act as the flatworms’ immediate hosts.

Researchers explained that these snails release the killer flatworms in their larvae form. Once in the water, the larvae penetrate their next preferred mammal host. In this case, animals such as dogs, who love swimming and playing in water, become victims. The parasite does not infect humans.

A dog who swims in or drinks water contaminated with this flatworm species gets infected with it. Usually, this parasite burrows through a dog’s skin and first travels to the lungs. It then migrates to the liver, intestinal lining, and other organs.

In dogs, these flatworms cause a life-threatening condition known as canine schistosomiasis. Ultimately, this illness causes organ failure, as per Daily Mail News reports.

Commenting on the discovery, UCR Professor Adler Dillman stated they didn’t expect to find those specific snail species and the killer flatworm in the Colorado River.

“Not only was it a surprise to find H. americana, we also did not know that the snails were present,” he said in a statement.

Dillman shared they’ll continue spreading awareness about this killer parasite. “Dogs can die from this infection, so we are hoping to raise public awareness that it’s there. “

Furthermore, the researcher cautioned dog owners against taking their canines to the Colorado River.

“If you’re swimming in the Colorado River with them, your pets are in peril,” Dillman said.

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