Researchers at Helsinki University have reported the first case of Linguatula serrata, a worm-like parasite found in dogs, in Finland. Commonly known as “tongue worm,” the zoonotic parasite can grow up to 8 percent within the host’s body and can also infect humans.
According to a press release by the university, the parasite was found in a dog that had been brought to Finland from Spain about a year ago. The owner spotted the three-centimetre-long worm-like organism after the dog had coughed it up onto the floor.
The owner then sent the parasite, along with a stool sample from the dog, to a veterinarian, who reported the discovery to the University of Helsinki. The results of a DNA test conducted at the University of Eastern Finland confirmed that it was a Linguatula serrata infection.
Although the parasites are called tongue worms, they are crustaceans that reside in the nasal cavities and sinuses of dogs and occasionally cats (or other carnivorous mammals such as foxes), causing upper respiratory symptoms.
The animals generally become infected with Linguatula serrata after consuming the organs of herbivorous animals such as cattle, which act as intermediate hosts. Humans can get infected with the parasite if they consume raw meat or are exposed to dog feces that are contaminated with Linguatula serrata eggs.
The parasite is most commonly found in regions with a warm or subtropical climate such as Africa and Asia. Treatment for the infection in dogs generally includes antibiotics, surgery or nasal flushing.