Worm infestation occurs when worms live in, mainly your gastrointestinal tract, and drive nutrition from your body as parasites. Children are particularly vulnerable as they put everything into their mouths.
Since these worms consume most of the vitamins and nutrients from the host, their infestation may result in malnutrition, low weight and anaemia besides a variety of other ailments.
What worms commonly cause infection?
Among a large variety of parasitic worms that can take up residence in humans, two are fairly common:
- flatworms, which include tapeworms and flukes
- roundworms, which cause ascariasis, pinworm, and hookworm infections
These two types of parasitic worms can be found in a variety of habitats and aren’t always visible to the naked eye.
Sources of worm infestation
- Playing/working/walking barefoot in infected water or soil especially if it’s dirty and damp.
- Drinking contaminated water.
- Undercooked meats and infected food e.g. unwashed fruits and vegetables.
- Contact with an infected person or pet.
What are the symptoms of parasitic infection?
You may not have any symptoms, or they may be quite mild such as:
- Grinding of teeth
- Loss of appetite
- abdominal pain
- weight loss
- general weakness
In addition, tapeworms can cause:
- allergic reactions – cough or a skin rash
- neurological problems such as seizures
It may take weeks or months to notice additional symptoms of fluke infection. These may include:
Additional symptoms of hookworms include:
- itchy rash
- Blood in the stool
As trichinosis worms travel through the bloodstream and enter other tissue or muscles, they can cause:
- fever and chills
- swelling of the face
- muscle pain and tenderness
- splinter hemorrhages under fingernails
Female pinworm or thread worm crawls out and lays eggs around the anus usually at night, and may additionally cause:
- Irritation and itching of the bum
Higher number (heavier infestation) with the giant roundworm ascariasis lumbricoides can lead to problems in the lungs or intestines causing:
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, especially after a recent travel, do consult your doctor. A few diagnostic tests mightl be necessary to identify the culprit:
- A fecal test involves checking a stool sample for parasites, larvae, or eggs.
- A tape test involves placing clear tape around the anus. The tape can be examined under a microscope for the presence of pinworms or pinworm eggs. You may be able to see evidence of pinworms around a child’s anus first thing in the morning or with a flashlight at night even with the naked eye. The parasite looks like a piece of very thin white thread, about 1/4 inch long.
- A blood test can be used to detect parasites in the blood. There is generally a raised eosinophilic count.
- An endoscopy or colonoscopy can be useful when stool samples turn up no evidence of parasites and symptoms are severe. They may also help eliminate other causes for your symptoms.
- Imaging tests like MRI, CT scan, or X-rays can be used to rule out worms as a cause of cough or seizures.
How is parasitic infection treated?
Your treatment plan will be determined based on the type of intestinal worm you have and your symptoms. Conventionally, tapeworm infections are treated with an oral medication, such as praziquantel (Biltricide), which paralyzes the adult tapeworm causing it to detach from the gut, become dissolved, and then pass out of your body in stool.
Common treatments for a roundworm infection include mebendazole (Vermox, Emverm) and albendazole (Albenza).
Symptoms typically begin to improve after a few weeks of treatment. Your doctor will most likely take and analyze another stool sample after treatment is complete to see if the worms have disappeared.
In very severe cases where parasites have invaded other parts of the body, additional treatments like surgery may be necessary. Ask your doctor if you should follow a special diet or take nutritional supplements during this time. And follow up with your doctor as advised.
Most people respond well to treatment and feel better within a few weeks. A full recovery can be expected in most cases.
It may take longer to recover if you have a severe case, a compromised immune system, or a coexisting health condition.
De-worming medication kills only adult worms and not their eggs.
It is recommended that you de-worm yourself regularly every six months, even if you don’t show any symptoms.
Treat the entire family at the same time to successfully get rid of the infection.
Intestinal worms increase your risk for anemia and intestinal blockages. Complications occur more frequently in older adults and in people who have suppressed immune systems, such as people with HIV or AIDS infection.
Worm infections can pose a higher risk if you’re pregnant. Your doctor will determine which antiparasitic medication is safe to take during pregnancy and will monitor you closely while you are treated during pregnancy.
How to prevent parasitic infection?
The following tips can often help prevent parasitic worm infection:
- Always wash and clean fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
- Never eat raw or undercooked meat or poultry. Freeze to –4°F (–20°C) for a minimum of 24 hours or thoroughly cook to temperatures of at least 145-160°F (62.8-71°C).
- Avoid cross-contamination during food prep by keeping meat separate from other foods.
- Disinfect all cutting boards, utensils, and countertops that touched raw meat.
- Wash or reheat any food that falls on the floor instead of putting it in the mouth.
- Don’t eat watercress or other fresh water plants raw.
- Don’t walk barefoot in places where soil may be contaminated by feces.
- De-worm your pets and other animals around the home.
- Clean up animal waste.
- Maintain proper hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and water before and after using the toilet, before preparing or eating foods, after touching raw meat, or even after giving a cuddle to your pet. Ensure that your kids/care takers do the same.
It’s more difficult to prevent parasitic worm infection when you’re traveling to foreign countries, especially those regions where sanitation is a problem. That’s when you should be extra vigilant.
- Always consume cooked/warm food.
- Drink only bottled water.
- Wash your hands frequently. If you don’t have access to soap and running water, carry a hand sanitizer. It can help prevent parasitic worm infection.
The National Deworming Day in India is a single fixed-day approach to treating intestinal worm infections in all children aged 1- 19 years and is held on 10 February and 10 August each year, since the launch of National Health Mission (NHM) by Ministry of health and family welfare(MOHFW) in April 2005.
On this day, all children are administered the chewable deworming tablet at all schools and Anganwadis free-of-cost.
Children who can’t be dewormed on these days due to some reason are administered the tablet within a week on the mop-up day.
A few Homoeopathic medicines according to the type of worm:
- All types: Cuprum oxidatum nigrum, Nux vomica, Cina
- Tape worm: Cina, Cuprum oxidatum nigrum, Flix mas, Granatum, Iodium
- Hookworms: Chenopodium, Thymol
- Trichinosis: Tanacetum
- Pin or thread worms: Santoninum, Filix mas, Teucrium, Cina, Caladium, Sinapis nigra, turpentine oil, Chelone, Sulphur
- Ascaris: Teucrium, Santoninum, Cina, indigo