Ascariasis

Ascariasis

Ascariasis is a type of roundworm infection. These worms are parasites that use your body as a host to mature from larvae or eggs to adult worms. Adult worms, which reproduce, can be more than a foot (30 centimeters) long.
One of the most common worm infections in people worldwide, ascariasis is uncommon in the United States. Most infected people have mild cases with no symptoms. But heavy infestation can lead to serious symptoms and complications
Ascariasis occurs most often in children in tropical and subtropical regions of the world — especially in areas with poor sanitation and hygiene.

SYMPTOMS

Most people infected with ascariasis have no symptoms. Moderate to heavy infestations cause various symptoms, depending on which part of your body is affected.

In the lungs

After you ingest the microscopic ascariasis eggs, they hatch in your small intestine and the larvae migrate through your bloodstream or lymphatic system into your lungs. At this stage, you may experience signs and symptoms similar to asthma or pneumonia, including:

  • Persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing

After spending six to 10 days in the lungs, the larvae travel to your throat, where you cough them up and then swallow them.
In the intestines

The larvae mature into adult worms in your small intestine, and the adult worms typically live in the intestines until they die. In mild or moderate ascariasis, the intestinal infestation can cause:

  • Vague abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea or bloody stools

If you have a large number of worms in your intestine, you might have:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss or malnutrition
  • A worm in your vomit or stool

CAUSES

Ascariasis isn’t spread directly from person to person. Instead, a person has to come into contact with soil mixed with human feces that contain ascariasis eggs or infected water. In many developing countries, human feces are used for fertilizer, or poor sanitary facilities allow human waste to mix with soil in yards, ditches and fields.

Small children often play in dirt, and infection can occur if they put their dirty fingers in their mouths. Unwashed fruits or vegetables grown in contaminated soil also can transmit the ascariasis eggs.

RISK FACTORS

Risk factors for ascariasis include:

  • Most people who have ascariasis are 10 years old or younger. Children in this age group may be at higher risk because they’re more likely to play in dirt.
  • Warm climate. In the United States, ascariasis is more common in the Southeast, but it’s more prevalent in developing countries with warm temperatures year-round.
  • Poor sanitation. Ascariasis is widespread in developing countries where human feces are allowed to mix with local soil.

COMPLICATIONS

Mild cases of ascariasis usually don’t cause complications. If you have a heavy infestation, potentially dangerous complications may include:

  • Slowed growth. Loss of appetite and poor absorption of digested foods put children with ascariasis at risk of not getting enough nutrition, which can slow growth.
  • Intestinal blockage and perforation. In heavy ascariasis infestation, a mass of worms can block a portion of your intestine, causing severe abdominal cramping and vomiting. The blockage can even perforate the intestinal wall or appendix, causing internal bleeding (hemorrhage) or appendicitis.
  • Duct blockages. In some cases, worms may block the narrow ducts of your liver or pancreas, causing severe pain.

PREVENTION

The best defense against ascariasis is good hygiene and common sense. Follow these tips to avoid infection:
Practice good hygiene. Before handling food, always wash your hands with soap and water. Wash fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly.

DIAGNOSIS

In heavy infestations, it’s possible to find worms after you cough or vomit, and the worms can come out of other body openings, such as your mouth or nostrils. If this happens to you, take the worm to your doctor to identify it and prescribe the proper treatment.
Stool tests

Mature female ascariasis worms in your intestine begin laying eggs. These eggs travel through your digestive system and eventually can be found in your stool.
Blood tests

Your blood can be tested for the presence of an increased number of a certain type of white blood cell, called eosinophils. Ascariasis can elevate your eosinophils, but so can other types of health problems.

TREATMENT

Typically, only infections that cause symptoms need to be treated. In some cases, ascariasis will resolve on its own.

Medications
Anti-parasite medications are the first line of treatment against ascariasis. The most common are:

  • Albendazole (Albenza)
  • Ivermectin (Stromectol)
  • Mebendazole

These medications, taken for one to three days, kill the adult worms. Side effects include mild abdominal pain or diarrhea.
Surgery
In cases of heavy infestation, surgery may be necessary to remove worms and repair damage they’ve caused. Intestinal obstruction or perforation, bile duct obstruction, and appendicitis are complications that may require surgery.

 

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