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Human Intestinal Worms - Deworming and General Information

  • Synopsis: Published: 2017-05-05 (Revised/Updated 2017-07-24) - Information on common types of worms humans can be infected with, includes information on signs and symptoms as well as treatment options for worms - Disabled World (Disabled World).

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Although intestinal worm infections are more common in countries where people endure poor sewage disposal, water treatment and food sanitation, adults and children living in the United States are still very much at risk, particularly if they travel abroad. A simple lick from your pet, walking barefoot, swimming in a pool with untreated water, not washing hands thoroughly before eating or preparing food, under-cooked meat, these are just some of the ways humans can get parasitic worms.

There are hundreds of types of worms (helminths) that infect humans worldwide. They come in all shapes and sizes; flat, round, hooked and barbed. Humans can become infected if they swallow eggs, larvae, cysts or adult worms living in food, drink, soil and feces.

Some common types of worms that can infect adults and children include threadworm, roundworm, whipworm, tapeworm and hookworm. Some worm eggs, such as pin worm or thread worm eggs, are so small that they can only be seen using a microscope, these very small eggs can be airborne.

Figure 1. Top: Combantrin worm medicine for Pinworms and Roundworms. Bottom: Combantrin chocolate squares for Threadworms, Roundworms, and Hookworms.
About This Image: Figure 1. Top: Combantrin worm medicine for Pinworms and Roundworms. Bottom: Combantrin chocolate squares for Threadworms, Roundworms, and Hookworms.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Worm Infestation

  • Fever
  • Itchy bottom
  • Worms in stool
  • Abdominal pain
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Loss of appetite
  • Wheezing or cough
  • Irritability and/or general weakness

Severe Infestations Can Cause

  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhoea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Abdominal distention (swelling)
  • Anaemia (in cases of hookworm infestation)
  • Weight loss (in cases of tapeworm infestation)

Deworming

Deworming is a process which helps get rid of worms that enter the human body. Deworming should be done using prescribed drugs and appropriate dosages.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends periodic deworming of all children living in endemic areas once a year when the prevalence of soil-transmitted parasitic worms in the community is over 20 percent, and twice a year when it is over 50 percent. They also suggest health and hygiene education in schools to reduce transmission and reinfection by encouraging healthy behaviours, and also to ensure adequate sanitation.

Deworming medication (figure 1.) kills adult worms but not the eggs. So repeating the dose every six months is vital. Doctors generally prescribe a single dose of albendazole tablets once every six months for children. It works for most parasitic worms in the gut except for tapeworm.

Anti-worm products will only treat the adult worms currently residing in the intestines. They will not treat the eggs or immature worms. This is why it is important to treat the whole family at the same time and to check roughly two weeks after the initial dose in case a second dose of treatment is required. This is because existing worm eggs can cause a reinfection - treatment will not prevent children from contracting threadworm again if they ingest more eggs.

Consult your doctor before using deworming drugs if you;

  • Have liver problems.
  • Are pregnant or nursing your baby.
  • Are taking other prescription or non-prescription medicines, including supplements.

When a worm infection strikes, be sure to pay extra attention to personal hygiene and household cleanliness. Practicing the following steps for 7 days can help you quickly clear up pinworms and roundworms:

  • Keep nails cut and scrubbed
  • Disinfect toilets, bedroom and laundry area daily
  • Wash all clothing, nightclothes, towels and bed linen thoroughly
  • Be sure everyone washes their hands regularly, especially after bathroom use and before meals

Brief Overview of Common Types of Worms Humans Can Have

Pinworms

Pinworms are also known as threadworms in the U.K., parts of Asia, and Australia. Pinworms are between 2 - 13 millimetres long and look like a piece of cotton thread. It is estimated that more than 30% of children worldwide harbor pinworms. It is most common worm infection in the developed world. Pinworm infections are the most common type of worm infection in the U.S. The most common symptom of pinworms is itching in the anal area. This can make sleeping difficult. The period of time from swallowing eggs to the appearance of new eggs around the anus is 4 to 8 weeks. Some people who are infected do not have symptoms.

Treatment for Human Pinworm Infection:

Treatment is typically done with two doses of the medications mebendazole, pyrantel pamoate, or albendazole 2 weeks apart. People who live with or takes care of an infected person should be treated at the same time. Washing personal items in hot water after each dose of medication is recommended. Good handwashing, daily bathing in the morning, and daily changing of underwear can help prevent reinfection.

Roundworms

Anyone can get roundworms. Roundworms are most common in regions with a high population density and poor hygiene and sanitation facilities. Also known as 'nematodes', these worms like to live in the human gut, but certain species can travel to different areas of the body. Roundworms use the human body to stay alive, feed and reproduce.

Roundworms have a spaghetti-like appearance, and appear white or brown. They vary in length from several millimetres to up to two metres. About 60 types (species) of roundworm can live in (are parasites of) humans. These parasites can be passed via water, food, vomit or feces that are infected with roundworm eggs. Roundworms can also be contracted by contact with infected surfaces (usually soil and dirt). It is possible for one person to pass these parasites to another person.

Feline roundworms can also cause disease in humans. Eggs from this parasite are excreted in cat feces. After 2 weeks in the open they can become infectious to humans. If ingested, the worms can migrate to organs such as the liver, lungs, brain or eyes.

Treatment for Roundworms in Humans:

Prescription oral medications such as Medendazole (Vermox), Ivermectin (Stromectol), or Albendazole (Albenza).

Hookworms

Hookworms are worms that affect the lungs and small intestine of an infected person or animal. Infection occurs when a person comes into contact with the soil that contains an infected animal's stool. Human to human contact does not spread hookworm. Hookworm infections are dangerous for both animals and people. Anemia and nutritional deficiencies are common results of hookworm infections in humans, and can prevent proper mental development in children who get hookworm frequently. The first symptom for hookworm is usually an allergy-like, itchy rash.

Treatment for Hookworms In Humans:

Albendazole (Albenza) or Mebendazole (Emverm) may be prescribed to for one to three days to kill the parasites within your body.

Whipworms

The human whipworm (Trichuris trichiura or Trichocephalus trichiuris) is a round worm that causes trichuriasis (a type of helminthiasis which is one of the neglected tropical diseases) when it infects the large intestine in humans. There is a worldwide distribution of Trichuris trichiura, with an estimated 1 billion human infections. People with a whipworm infection may experience bloody diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal pain.

Treatment for Human Whipworms:

The most common treatment for a whipworm infection is an anti-parasitic medication. Conventional drug options are mebendazole, 200 mg for adults and 100 mg for children, for 3 days. Albendazole is an alternative medication for treatment of whipworms.

Ascaris Worm

Ascaris is the most common human worm infection. These worms can be large and round with a length of up to 31cm. Male Ascaris worms have a curved tail, whereas females have a straightened tail and can be up to 35cm long. These worms do not usually move and absorb nutrients from the organs. Infestation can cause morbidity by compromising nutritional status, affecting cognitive processes, inducing tissue reactions such as granuloma to larval stages, and by causing intestinal obstruction, which can be fatal. Almost all humans get this type of worms from time to time.

Ascaris Worm Treatment:

Anthelminthic medications (drugs that rid the body of parasitic worms), such as albendazole and mebendazole, are the drugs of choice for treatment. Infections are generally treated for 1-3 days.

Fluke Worms

Flukes are a type of parasitic flatworm, and have at least one external sucker, which they use to attach themselves to their host. These types of parasitic worms are about half an inch long with about a millimeter of thickness. They live in your intestinal veins and lay eggs there that travel to the intestinal hollow and cause several complications. Capable of moving along the blood circulation, they can also occur in bile ducts, gallbladder, and liver parenchyma. The two main types of flukes that can affect humans are liver flukes and lung flukes which can result in diseases such as Schistosomiasis, fascioliasis, opisthorchiasis and paragonmiasis. Raw watercress and other fresh water plants are the main sources of flukes in humans. You can also get infected when you drink contaminated water.

Fluke Worm Treatment:

Liver fluke infections are treated with praziquantel, a drug used to eliminate flukes from the body. Other treatment options for fluke are triclabendazole or bithionol. Sometimes surgery may be necessary to remove growths on the skin or in rare cases cysts in the brain.

Tapeworms

Tapeworm infection is the infestation of the digestive tract by a species of parasitic flatworm (cestode), called tapeworms. Live tapeworm larvae grouped in cysts are sometimes ingested by consuming undercooked meat. Once inside the digestive tract, a larva can grow into a very large adult tapeworm. Adult tapeworms can measure up to 55 feet (17 m) long and can survive as long as 25 years. Often, people with intestinal tapeworm infection do not notice any symptoms. According to the U.S. CDC at least 1,000 people are admitted to hospital each year because of tapeworm cysts in the brain.

Treatment for Human Tapeworms:

Tapeworms are generally treated with medications taken orally, usually in a single dose. The common drug used to treat tapeworm infections is called praziquantel. The drug Niclosamide can also be used.

NOTE: If you experience any of the signs or symptoms of worm infection, seek medical attention.

Related Information:

  1. Dracunculiasis or Guinea Worm Disease: General Overview - Information regarding Guinea worm disease, a condition caused by a parasitic worm that migrates through subcutaneous tissues causing severe pain - Thomas C. Weiss
  2. Undetected Raccoon Roundworm Parasite Infections - Study reveals raccoon roundworms (Baylisascaris procyonis) infect people more than previously assumed and create a disease risk for other animals, including humans - University of California - Santa Barbara
  3. Screw Worms and the Spread of Disease - There are two types of screw worm fly, Chrysomyia bezziana, and Cochliomyia hominivorax found predominately in tropical areas of the American continent - Disabled World
  4. How to Recognize Symptoms of Eye Parasites - Information regarding Demodex parasites, small mites found at the roots of eyelashes that can cause a range of eye conditions - Disabled World


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