What was supposed to be a couple’s romantic vacation in the Dominican Republic turned into a painful experience instead. It all started when their feet began to itch.
CTV News reports Katie Stephens and Eddie Zytner traveled from Windsor, Ontario, to enjoy a week at a resort in Punta Cana in early January.
But, soon after they arrived, Zytner told CTVNews, they knew something was wrong:
“For a lot of our trip, we found that we were scratching our feet quite a bit.”
The 25-year-old man said they assumed the irritating, itchy feeling was from:
“Sand fleas we had heard about so we kind of assumed it was that at first.”
Their scratching didn’t stop, though, after the couple returned home on Jan. 19. The couple’s feet began to swell. Then, Zytner noticed bumps popping up on his toes the next day.
He explained in a Facebook post that he went to two doctors about his concerns, who were left baffled by the swelling and bumps:
He said they only sent him home with his feet wrapped in bandages.
Stephens’s swelling started a few days after Zytner’s. She told CTV News:
“I think I might have complained about it a little bit more that my feet were really itchy, but mine didn’t start swelling and everything until about the Sunday night.”
On the fourth day home from the trip, the couple was checked by a third doctor at the hospital and finally got an answer for the mysterious itch — parasites were crawling on their skin.
The pair had contracted larva migrans, commonly known as hookworms. The parasites make their way into human skin if it comes in contact with an infected surface, according to CTVNews.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports most cases of Cutaneous Larva Migrans reported in travelers occur in the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and South America. But, beaches and sandboxes where domestic animals roam are also a common source for the parasitic infection.
As it turned out, the couple was in luck. That third doctor was familiar with the damage hookworm could cause. He’d treated a patient with the same condition who’d recently returned from Thailand.
A creeping eruption from the infection usually appears one to five days after skin penetration, but the incubation period can last up to one month. The foot and buttocks are the usual locations the parasites are found on, but any skin surface coming in contact with contaminated soil can be affected, according to the CDC.
The pair thinks a barefoot walk on the beach is to blame for the worms invading the skin on their feet.
On his Facebook post, Zytner warned other travelers about the parasites. He wrote, in part:
I wanted to make this post because most doctors have never seen Larva Migrans before. 3 out of the 4 doctors we saw have never heard of this hookworm. And if your feet begin to have an itch, swell or blister or look like mine, get those hooves checked out! It may not be what your doctor thinks. All this just from walking barefoot on the beach. So, anyone travelling.. check with your resort and see if the beaches around you are cleaned regularly. And it’s best to wear shoes on the beach as much as possible!
The couple was prescribed the medication ivermectin, a drug which isn’t licensed in Canada. Zytner’s mother drove to Michigan to get the medicine.
According to CTV News, the couple needs crutches still to get around, but things are looking up.
Zytner told the outlet:
“They [his feet] feel better. They looked a little bit better yesterday. We’re getting our bandages changed again… so we’ll have another chance to look at them and see how it’s progressing.”
The couple has an appointment scheduled with a specialist next week to treat the damage left by the parasites.