A Tennessee mother is warning people about the dangers of hookworm, a parasite that penetrates the skin, after her son became infected during a trip to a Florida beach.
In a Facebook post last week that has since gone viral, Kelli Dumas wrote that her 17-year-old son, Michael, went on a mission trip to Florida in June, where his friends buried him in the sand at Pompano Beach “for fun.” But the consequences were decidedly not.
After he returned home to Memphis, he began developing a red, itchy rash all over his lower body. When he went to a doctor, he was diagnosed with hookworm.
“It’s horrible and it’s so painful,” she told news outlet Local Memphis. “He’s been through so much pain. I posted this on Facebook to warn people that this can happen.”
At least five other people from Michael’s trip also contracted hookworm, the local outlet reported. Dumas noted in her Facebook post that her son had the “worst case, by far.”
There are many species of hookworms, which live in the small intestines of humans or animals. Feces of an infected person or animal contains eggs from the parasite, and the parasite spreads when feces get into the soil outside. Hookworm larvae are then able to penetrate skin that comes into contact with them. People primarily contract the parasite by walking barefoot on contaminated soil.
Specifically, Michael was diagnosed with an infection caused by animal hookworm, also known as zoonotic hookworm, meaning a species of hookworm that lives in an animal’s intestine, The Washington Post reported. The other primary type of hookworm is human hookworm, meaning a species that lives in the intestines of humans.
Typically, zoonotic hookworm in humans results in a skin infection, according to the CDC. In contrast, human hookworms infect a person’s intestines and can lead to protein deficiency or anemia. And when zoonotic hookworm infects animals, it can cause a life-threatening intestinal infection in animals.
The CDC notes that while hookworms are found all over the world, zoonotic hookworms in the United States are more common on the East Coast than on the West Coast. Human hookworms tend to thrive in warm, moist climates.
The Florida Department of Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment from HuffPost, though a spokeswoman told USA Today that the department was “looking into” the situation.
Dumas has told numerous media outlets that her son’s treatment, which has cost thousands of dollars so far, has included medications as well as cryotherapy, a treatment that “freezes” lesions from the skin. She said he’s also had to go on additional medication to treat staph, a bacterial infection he contracted in his wounds.
“I can’t stress enough how traumatic it is for a teenage boy — and his mother — to know that there are worms living in his body,” she told The Washington Post.