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UK pets and owners at risk of blinding eye infection

 
  • Thelazia callipaeda, also known as ‘oriental eye worm’, is common in Europe
  • Now British pets and their owners are at risk from dogs that are imported 
  • Parasite is spread by a species of fruit fly recently found in southern England
  • There are fears it could spread to wild animals such as foxes, say experts
  • Humans can get infected too as it can jump between species, it’s been warned

Colin Fernandez for the Daily Mail

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British pets and their owners are at risk of a parasitic eye worm that can lead to blindness from dogs imported from Europe, a study warned.

The parasite is spread by a species of fruit fly recently found in southern England, leading to fears it could spread to wild animals such as foxes that might act as ‘a reservoir’ if it gains a foothold.

But humans can get infected too as it can jump between species, according to research from the Veterinary Record.

Thelazia callipaeda also known as ‘oriental eye worm’ is increasingly common in Europe while the fruit fly Phortica variegata has been found in Gloucestershire, Kent and Berkshire.

The first known case of the eyeworm infection in the UK was found in an one-year-old male collie cross recently imported from western Romania just last July.

British pets and their owners are at risk of oriental eye worm after cases have emerged in the UK experts have warned (stock photo)

British pets and their owners are at risk of oriental eye worm after cases have emerged in the UK experts have warned (stock photo)

British pets and their owners are at risk of oriental eye worm after cases have emerged in the UK experts have warned (stock photo)

It was later found in a 12-year-old female wire hair fox terrier had been in Lombardia and an eight-year-old female West Highland white terrier taken to the Dordogne that summer.

All had a UK pet passport and the emerging infections highlights the danger the free movement of pets poses to animals and humans in the British isles.

FIRST UK ORIENTAL EYEWORM CASE 

Parasitologists from the University of Liverpool reported the UK’s first known case of oriental eye worm last August in a dog that was imported from Romania.

All visible worms were removed from the dog and sent to Liverpool Veterinary Parasitology Diagnostics, where they were identified as thelazia callipaeda.

Writing in Veterinary Record letters, the researchers said: ‘This case raises awareness of a new imported disease and highlights the ongoing risks associated with pet travel and importation, and the need for vigilance when examining these animals.’

‘Hyperendemic’ in some countries

Now scientists have urged vets and GPs to be vigilant to the emerging parasitic threat and called for the loophole in the pet passport scheme to be closed so all pets travelling to high risk areas are given eye drops to kill the parasite.

Infections have been confirmed in Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Greece, Belgium and Serbia.

In some locations, such as the Basilicata region in the ‘heel’ of Italy, infection is ‘hyperendemic, with the reported prevalence in dogs exceeding 40 per cent.’

And infections in humans have been found in Spain, Italy, France, Croatia and Serbia demonstrating that it can jump from species.

Adult worms live in the eyes and tissues and infected animals show a variety of symptoms within two weeks, from mild conjunctivitis to severe corneal ulceration which, if untreated, can lead to blindness.

Postdoctoral Research Associate John Graham-Brown at the Liverpool Veterinary Parasitology Diagnostics, University of Liverpool said: ‘The risks of introducing such parasitic agents to the UK posed by importation and or travel of dogs abroad have been raised and illustrated on multiple occasions, while widespread media reports of large-scale illegal importation of dogs to the UK are clearly also of concern.

‘The UK government’s pet travel scheme (PETS) facilitates the travel of dogs to and from countries in the EU without the need for quarantine.’ 

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