Saturday’s Dennis the Menace had a bit of barefoot commentary, so I thought I’d say a few things about it.
Here’s the cartoon.
I’m of two minds on this one. For one, in such a park, is it really that much better to step in a pile when shod? If you do, you’re tracking it into your car, and then probably into your house.
On the other hand, if you are barefoot, you’ll know it immediately, and you will be able to take steps to clean off your feet right away.
It is also the case that, if you are barefoot, you will most likely be much more careful looking where you are going.
But there is still something else to at least worry about, and that’s canine hookworm.
When I look at its prevalence, it is not inconsiderable. According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council website:
In a survey conducted in 1996 using fecal samples collected from dogs across the United States, 19% of the fecal samples contained Ancylostoma spp. eggs and 1.02% contained Uncinaria spp. Ancylostoma prevalence ranged from less than 5% in the west to 36% in the southeastern United States.
That seems awfully high to me, particularly since they also have a really cool map showing parasite prevalence, here. If you click on through, it shows that, in the United States, 1 out of 88 dogs have tested positive for hookworm. A low-prevalence state like California (the climate really isn’t too friendly to canine hookworm) is 1 out of 219, and a high-prevalence state like Georgia is 1 out of 44.
The maps even goes down to the county level (with my own county at 1 out of 74).
I suspect part of the difference is the kinds of dogs being tested.
If we go back to the Dennis the Menace cartoon and ask about the risk there in a dog park, I would guess that it is pretty low. Dog parks have owners who are pretty conscientious, both in picking up faeces and it getting their dogs good regular medical care. So I’d think that the risk of canine hookworm from that situation would really be quite low. The prevalence would be way below the averages.
That’s probably true for suburban locations in general—folks take care of their dogs there. I’m also not too worried out and about on hiking trails. Loose dogs probably don’t follow those trails anyways. Additionally, I’ve found most dogs step off the trail to do their thing. So, even if there is some prevalence, I don’t think it’s much of a risk to barefooters.
However, I’d be an idiot to say it cannot happen.
Keep in mind that canine hookworm cannot complete its life-cycle in humans; the hormones and/or other signals are just wrong. What often happens is that the larvae get lost in the skin, causing cutaneous larva migrans. It’s annoying an itchy, and quite treatable. (So if you notice it, go see a doctor.) By the way, one of the websites I looked at suggested that most cases of this happen when workers have to crawl in contaminated dirt, when, for instance, accessing crawlspaces under houses.
So, back to Dennis: it’s probably not a big deal.
But it’s at least something to keep in the back of your mind, and to be extra careful where you step.