An Alberta couple who to their horror, realized their infant had eaten feces raccoon found themselves racing against time to find a rare medication — a medication that had not yet been approved by Health Canada. Good doctors and pharmacists across Western Canada mobilized to help.
Ashley Haughton learned raccoon droppings can be tremendously dangerous when she found it in her yard in Lethbridge, Alberta. Haughton researched how to dispose of it safely. That knowledge would go on to potentially save her baby’s life.
Raccoons can carry a deadly form of roundworm called Baylisascaris procyonis, and the eggs live in their feces.
It is dangerous to humans because an extremely rare parasitic infection can occur if we ingest the eggs. The eggs hatch into larvae, travel through the body and invade organs, including the eyes and brain.
So when Haughton’s one-year-old son ate raccoon feces from a backyard flower pot four weeks ago, Haughton knew she had to act fast. The infection can cause brain damage and coma.
It can also be deadly.
“They go through the stomach barrier, they infest your body … and essentially eat you from the inside out,” Jon Martin, the boy’s father, told a CBC Radio morning show.
“And if you don’t treat them quickly enough, there isn’t really a way to reverse the effects, because they’ve literally eaten your tissue.”
The sample was infested
Martin and Haughton immediately called their family doctor and the province’s Poison & Drug Information Service.
Both advised the parents to wait and see if their son developed symptoms of infection. Symptoms which included nausea, fatigue, loss of coordination and muscle control as well as the inability to focus attention. With worse indicators being enlargement of the liver and blindness.
Instead, the parents rushed to have the feces tested for roundworm. Their veterinarian confirmed the worst: The sample was infested with more eggs and larvae than they could count.
Rushing their son to the emergency room, the situation got more complicated. Doctors prescribed albendazole, a drug that needs to be taken within three days of exposure to reduce long term effects of the roundworms.
Special authorization for the prescription was required by Health Canada, as its manufacturer has not filed a drug submission in Canada.
This is when the real rush against time began.
“We started calling around … to try and track it down and then soon realized that it wasn’t available commonly at all,” Martin said.
‘I couldn’t imagine being in that situation’
When Lethbridge pharmacist Bryce Barry got the call that Martin was frantically searching for albendazole and learned why, he immediately understood the dire predicament.
“I’ve got young kids, and I couldn’t imagine being in that situation,” said Barry, who works at the Park Place Mall Shoppers Drug Mart.
A group of individuals would determine a toddlers fate
When he checked with his suppliers, Barry discovered that the life saving drug was not commercially available in Canada. He got to work contacting his network.
When a drug is not widely available, a compounding pharmacy can prepare personalized medications for patients. Individual ingredients are mixed together in the exact strength and dosage required.
Barry’s friend, Dawson Bremner, owned a pharmacy in Vancouver that had suppliers outside of Canada and was compounding drugs.
Bremner couldn’t do either, but got to work contacting his pharmaceutical representative, who mass-emailed clients across Western Canada.
Script Pharmacy in Calgary responded.
It had both the medication and the ingredients needed to make albendazole.
“When we first got that email … my technician took it very seriously,” said Script co-owner and pharmacist Aleem Datoo. “[But] I don’t think we had the full sense of how [serious] the situation was until a few weeks later, when our provincial college called and verified that [the feces] did have this certain parasite.
“That’s when we really fully appreciated what had been done — but on our end, it had been a total team effort.”
Meanwhile, Martin and Haughton, were preparing to drive to Montana to pick up the drug when received the good news. A pharmacy right there in Calgary could make it.
“It was one of the happiest phone calls I think you can get in a situation like this,” Martin said.
“I mean, I kind of had a breakdown on the phone.”
‘Everybody came together’
Fifty-six hours after ingesting raccoon feces, Martin and Haughton’s son received his first dose of albendazole.
And from the hospital doctors to the veterinarian to a chain of pharmacists, the collaboration between so many people to acquire the drug struck Barry as incredible.
“Everybody came together, and some of us had pretty small parts … but we were proud to get it in time,” Barry said. “And I thought it was pretty neat.”
As to how his son is doing, Marin said “He’s still doing all the wonderful things that the toddler is supposed to do. You can’t really ask for much more.”
Read the full story at CBC News.