Warning: This post contains graphic images.
If you picture what an idyllic holiday to the Caribbean might look like, you’d probably imagine yourself walking barefoot down the beach, holding hands with your other half, with the gentle sea breeze blowing, and the warm sun shining down. Bliss. But as one couple learned the hard way, there’s a slight problem with that picture perfect set-up: It might not be safe to walk barefoot on the beach in some parts of the world.
Twenty-two-year-old Katie Stephens and her partner Eddie Zytner, 25, both from Canada, recently took a trip to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. There, they spent a lot of time on the beach, often without wearing sandals.
Stephens and Zytner noticed their feet were itchy at points during their vacation, but Live Science reports the couple didn’t take much notice of it until their symptoms exacerbated following their return home. Zytner’s feet began to swell up, with blisters and bumps popping up all over. Stephens’ feet soon began to follow suit, and several trips to the doctor finally explained why.
The couple had contracted cutaneous larva migrans, a skin condition caused when hookworms burrow into the skin. It became apparent that hookworms — tiny parasites that usually affect cats and dogs — had been lurking in the sand, where they were able to infect the couple as they walked.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, hookworm larvae make their way into unprotected skin where they crawl around, which causes visible red tracks known as “creeping eruptions” to appear. Apparently, the hookworms don’t tend to live much longer than six weeks inside human skin because they’re not used to our bodies as a habitable environment. They can be treated sooner with anti-parasitic medicine, however.
After the experience he and his girlfriend had resulting from their bare-foot walking on the beach in the Caribbean, Zytner posted on Facebook to warn others. “I wanted to make this post because most doctors have never seen Larva Migrans before. Three out of the four doctors we saw have never heard of this hookworm,” he wrote. “If your feet begin to have an itch, swell or blister or look like mine, get those hooves checked out!
“All this just from walking barefoot on the beach. So, anyone traveling … 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!”
You have been warned.