I received a high volume of email about my Pathogens post, so I am going to regale you with a similar mother+microscopic parasites story.
I was visiting my parents, and my mother was a little grossed out by my dogs licking my face.
“There was a guy who got TAPEWORM because he let a dog lick his lips,” she announced.
I scratched my head, “My mouth isn’t OPEN when they lick my face, and my dogs have a clean bill of health. They don’t have worms.”
This went on for a few days. I wondered where she heard this. She indeed works at a vet clinic so this could be plausible. However, she also was the one who taped Ann Landers colums to my bedroom door when I had lizards. It was a story about someone who got salmonella from a pet turtle. It turned out you can get it if you are a two year old who decides to lick a turtle, or to let the turtle help you prepare chicken for dinner. Since I didn’t have turtles, nor would I ever lick my lizards, my likelihood of getting salmonella was very low. There was also the big scare of 1995 when I got the flu or several bad headaches, she thought I must have toxic shock syndrome. I was beginning to feel like Typhoid Mary.
Today the truth came out when i finally sat down to hear the story of the tape worm spreading dog. I thought that I could be in for one of my mom’s “sorta kinda got half the story public service annoucements.”
“This guy’s lips were blue and they were losing him. They found out that his spleen was rock hard and getting bigger, and they had to remove it in emergency surgery. There were tapeworms that attacked his spleen and looked like they had been growing there for 30 years. He was asked how could he have had tapeworms that long? It turned out that 30 years ago, he went to Cambodia. It was the summertime, and a feral street dog licked his face and licked him on the lips, and they figured out that the dog must have had tapeworm fragments on his saliva that they passed to the guy. All that time the man had been living with it.”
I said to her,” Okay. First off, a feral dog wouldn’t probably lick somebody’s lips. They would steer clear of people. ”
“Well, maybe it was a stray. Or it was a puppy.”
I continued: “Secondly, my dogs aren’t feral street dogs living in a mostly very humid country that has third world conditions in some parts of it. They see the vet and get their shots regularly, they are on heartworm preventative and are tested every year for other worms. They have not lately been near a river in Cambodia.”
“Well,” she said, “Fleas spread tapeworms, so you never know. Fleas travel.”
“How does a flea who doesn’t live very long travel around the world? (BELOW: Photo of a flea performing in a flea circus…unless he is pulling around a cart in Cambodia…) How can a tapeworm fit inside a flea anyways? Aren’t they bigger than fleas?”
“Eggs. Or fragments.”
“But if it is tape worm ‘fragments’ wouldn’t the tape worm be dead?” I was really rationalizing now, “Like a killed vaccine.”
“You went fishing when you were a kid. You know that if a worm gets cut in half that it can grow back the part that is missing.”
“But not if it is in twenty different fragments. And those were night crawlers.”
“Maybe it would be enough.”
“But a dog’s mouth is WAY cleaner than a human mouth. I am more likely to make THEM sick. But my mouth is closed. And there aren’t too many diseases that humans can carry that can make a dog sick. So that won’t happen.”
“But it happened. So you have to stop your dogs licking your face”.
And that was that. So there you have it. One guy, allegedly according to my mother, got tapeworm thirty years ago, allegedly from a dog, and not from wading in a swamp, getting bitten by a flea himself, or eating something that he shouldn’t have eaten while in a foreign land that wasn’t pasteurized or FDA approved. Go figure.