Thelazia callipaeda is a parasitic eye worm that can cause blindness if left untreated. Although it’s been spreading across Europe, it has only recently been declared a “significant threat” in the United Kingdom, where 3 dogs have been diagnosed with the worm since last year. All 3 dogs had recently visited other European countries where the worm is more common.
The parasite is transmitted by flies and can live inside the eyes of dogs, cats, foxes, and humans. Symptoms of infection include conjunctivitis (“pink eye”) and corneal ulcers, which can lead to blindness if untreated. The parasite is not uncommon in much of Europe; in parts of southern Italy, as many as 40% of dogs have it.
A study published in the British Medical Journals warns about “the potential risks posed to the UK canine population from infection with T callipaeda through travel to and importation from parts of mainland Europe. Vigilance is therefore advised when examining travelled dogs. Although effective diagnostic tests and treatments are available, more can and should be done to prevent this zoonotic pathogen from becoming endemic in the UK.”
Needless to say, if you have recently taken your pet to or received a pet from Europe, you should probably have them checked out just to be on the safe side.