Deadly parasite that burrows through bare feet infects 16 people in small town near Austin, report says

A pregnant woman and a two-year-old child are among those who have the infection

Generic image of a blood test. (Pixabay)

RANCHO VISTA, Texas – A deadly parasite that burrows through bare feet has infected 16 people in a small town near Austin, according to a report from The Guardian.

Researchers say the infections likely stem from unsanitary surroundings in the town of Rancho Vista, an unincorporated city, consisting of about 400 homes in total.

Those infected with the parasite, Strongyloides, so far range from a pregnant woman to a two-year-old child.

The parasite can survive for decades in humans without being detected. It burrows through bare feet, enters a human’s bloodstream, the lungs, and then heads for the windpipe, where it is then coughed up and swallowed, according to The Guardian.

However, the parasite can turn deadly at “certain moments,” such as if the person who is infected is taking steroids.

“If an infected person takes immune-suppressing drugs such as steroids or chemotherapeutics, or has a lowered immune system because of a disease like leukemia, the worm can rapidly multiply throughout the body and cause death,” The Guardian reports.

Those who came up positive for Strongyloides weren’t aware of their diagnosis until they provided blood and stool samples for an academic study.

And, based on further research on the infection cluster, researchers say they believe they found one common connection -- terrible sanitary system failures.

“Often they work in lower-paying fields like construction or groundskeeping, juggling multiple jobs, and have built their lives from the ground up in Rancho Vista, sometimes literally,” The Guardian reports.

The town oftentimes smells of sewage, has packs of stray dogs, does not have an official garbage collection service or sidewalks, and there are no sewer lines, per The Guardian.

Instead, homes in the area have their own individual sewer systems, where sewage is pumped into an underground tank nearby, according to The Guardian. If the tank suffers biodegradation, the liquid could seep into the ground and cause contamination.

Those who become infected with Strongyloides may not be symptomatic. However, researchers say it is the deadliest of soil-transmitted parasites.

As for the positive cases, the residents were urged to inform their doctors of their test results. The treatment for the infection is a single dose of the antiparasitic drug ivermectin.

The best solution for Rancho Vista to prevent the spread of future infections is for it to be connected to a municipal sewer system or to repair the existing septic tanks, per The Guardian.

This could be done through the city of San Marcos, as its lines are just a mile away. However, the city’s mayor is claiming no legal responsibility to aid in the solution.

About the Author:

Cody King is a digital journalist for KSAT 12. She previously worked for WICS/WRSP 20 in Springfield, Illinois.