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If you’re a beach lover, you know that one of the best parts about heading down south for a vacation is feeling that warm, beautiful white sand between your toes. No trip to the ocean is complete without it.

But, thanks to a dangerous — and very gross — parasite hidden within the sandy grains of many beaches out there, there’s also a very good reason to avoid walking barefoot on the beach altogether: hookworms.

Hookworms, or larva migrans, are parasites that can enter your skin if you come into contact with infected sand or soil. Katie Stephens and Eddie Zytner, a Canadian couple from Windsor, Ontario, recently experienced just how painful they can be.

The young couple were vacationing at the IFA Villas Bavaro Resort in Dominican Republic’s Punta Cana when they noticed their feet were beginning to seriously itch. As many travellers probably would, they chalked it up to sand flea bites from the walks they took barefoot on the beach.

Except when they returned home, the itching didn’t go away. If anything, it intensified, and both of their feet began to swell. It was enough to prompt them to visit the hospital, where doctors also blamed it on sand fleas and sent them home. By their third visit though, the doctor on call was able to identify the hookworms, having just diagnosed something similar in another patient.

In an interview with CTV News, the couple revealed that the doctor wanted to prescribe them a drug called ivermectin, but because it’s only available to Canadians on a case-by-case basis, the doctor had to send a request and pictures to Health Canada.

“We found out that Health Canada had denied our request to receive the medication saying our case wasn’t severe enough,” Stephens said. “At that point, that’s when we freaked out a little.”

Luckily Zytner’s mother was able to drive to Detroit and pay $88 for the drugs instead, and after two days of taking them, the couple — who are still getting around on crutches — are only now starting to feel better. They’re also planning to meet with a specialist to repair some of the skin damage done to their feet.

“[My feet] 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,” Zytner said. “We want to make it known to more doctors what it is, what to look for and stuff because it took us a few trips to the hospital to find out what it was.”

To be honest, these two were actually really lucky that it was just their feet that were affected. Hookworms can go on to inhabit your intestines and sometimes even your lungs. In fact, these parasites earned their name because their hook-shaped mouths can attach themselves to the wall of your gut, puncturing your blood vessels, feeding on your blood and causing anemia… or worse.

Yeah. So that’s a cautionary tale if I ever heard one. Sure, I’ll miss that feeling of warm sand between my toes during my next trip, but if water shoes or flip flops can help me avoid that kind of gross pain and swelling, you can bet your bottom sand-dollar that I’ll be wearing them.

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