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A Canadian couple’s romantic beach vacation had anything but a fairytale ending.

Excited to escape winter weather for a brief moment, Katie Stephens and Eddie Zytner wandered the beaches of Punta Cana barefoot each day during their week-long vacation, only to return with memories they’d prefer to forget.

After walking in the sand outside their Dominican Republic resort, the couple said their feet began to itch, but they attributed their discomfort to possible bites from sand fleas.

After arriving back in Canada, they sought medical treatment for their increasingly painful, blistering feet, although it took consultations from three different doctors before the final physician was able to diagnose the source of infection: hookworm larvae.

Ancylostoma hookworms typically inhabit the intestines of household pets, such as dogs and cats. Humans risk infection when they come in contact with infected animal feces, when parasite eggs hatch into larvae that thrive in moist soil or sand. The miniscule parasites enter unsuspecting hosts by penetrating bare skin.

“I have dozens of worms in my feet, and so does Katie,” Zytner said. “It’s kind of sickening to think about.”

After several days, both victims had swollen blisters and visible red tracks all over their feet that showed where the worms had traveled under the skin. Adding insult to injury, Zytner and Stephens found out that scratching the itchy spots made the worms burrow even further, worsening the damage. The couple couldn’t bear to wear shoes or socks, and eventually needed crutches to get around.

“I started to freak out,” Stephens said.

To make the situation even more miserable, the couple also discovered that the medication used to treat hookworms isn’t readily available in Canada. Ivermectin — the drug they needed — is only available by federal approval on a case-by-case basis. “They said our case wasn’t severe enough to get the medication,” Zytner said. In a Facebook post, Stephens said that they eventually got their medication from the US.

To anybody travelling somewhere tropical, please be careful when in the sand and wear shoes! My boyfriend and I recently…

Posted by Katie Stephens on Tuesday, 23 January 2018

In the same post, Stephens and Zytner offered blunt advice: “Be careful in the sand, and wear shoes.”

Featured image by oneinchpunch/Getty Images

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