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A Flesh-Eating Parasite Is Making Its Way To Canada Through Dogs

Experts worry leishmania parasites could find a foothold in North America.

Experts are warning that a dangerous flesh-eating parasite could be on its way to Canada.

And dogs may be to blame.

Veterinarians have started to detect leishmania in Canadian and U.S.dogs, a dangerous parasite that can cause a flesh-eating disease in both animals and humans.

The parasites, usually spread by sandflies not native to North America, cause the disease leishmaniasis. Some forms of the disease can lead to severe disfigurement or even death. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world are affected every year, but the parasite has largely remained out of Canada and the U.S.

That may be changing.

The parasite has been known to spread in kennels of foxhounds. 
The parasite has been known to spread in kennels of foxhounds. 

According to researchers, the disease has been detected in dogs in two provinces and 18 states so far. A mixed-breed dog imported from Morocco was recently brought to a Quebec vet with face wounds and was later diagnosed to have the parasite.

A group of McGill University and University of Montreal researchers wrote about the discovery of the parasite in the Quebec dog for The Conversation.

“More and more, owners are travelling with their pets or importing animals from other countries,” they wrote. “Furthermore, since many of the tests and diagnostic treatments for exotic diseases (including leishmaniosis) are unfamiliar or inaccessible in Canada, diagnosis and treatment are complicated. This puts the health of the patient, and ultimately the public, at risk.”

They pointed to past cases where the parasite has spread in foxhounds in dog kennels across North America as evidence that the parasite can easily get out of control.

According to the Health Canada, the leishmania risk for humans travelling abroad is low, but public health officials warn you should avoid nighttime outdoor activity in countries where sandflies are common.

The researchers warned, however, that dogs are the main reservoir for the parasite’s transmission to humans, and the parasite can be transmitted from dog to dog through bites, breeding or blood transfusions.

And while you might think “flesh-eating dog parasite” is a uniquely 2020 problem, the disease isn’t totally new in Canada. Back in 2016 researchers sounded the alarm about the parasite and the possibility of a Canadian insect spreading it.

The assumption is that it can’t properly spread here because we don’t have the insects for it.

“But we don’t know that for sure and, as changes occur due to climate change, there might be an insect that could start spreading this,” Ontario Veterinary College professor Scott Weese told the CBC at the time.

Cool, cool, cool. Time to add another thing to worry about in our lives.

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