Ascariasis or roundworm infection affecting the intestines is a global condition that is present in both tropical and temperate areas where proper hygiene and sanitation are poorly observed. In these areas, most of the population might be harboring the parasites responsible for the infection.
This is considered one of the common parasitic infections that affect humans. Ascariasis is quite common among children between 3-8 years old.
Ascaris lumbricoides is the one responsible for this infection. The worm bears a resemblance to the common earthworm that ranges from 6-13 inches where the female can be as thick as a pencil. Take note that up to 100 worms can potentially infect the body.
How ascariasis spreads
Just like with any parasitic disease, poor personal hygiene can lead to ascariasis. The human feces found in the streets, fields and yards are the main sources of infective eggs in highly populated areas.
The eggs do not infect humans upon initially excreted by the roundworm. They are transmitted by hand to mouth. Using human feces as fertilizer can also allow the transmission of the infective eggs through food that is grown in the soil and eaten without washed thoroughly. The eggs are resistant to extremes in temperature and humidity.
The eggs require a number of weeks to develop and become infective. If the infective eggs were ingested, they pass into the intestines where they eventually hatch into larvae and start their trek throughout the body. It usually takes 2 months for the worms to reach maturity.
What are the symptoms?
If there are only a few roundworms present in the intestines, there are no symptoms. For those who have symptoms, it might be a vague or on-and-off abdominal pain.
The initial sign of ascariasis is the presence of a live worm in the stool or vomit. If the larva was able to migrate to the lungs, the individual will have a condition that is similar to pneumonia with cough, wheezing and fever. Remember that this phase of the condition occurs before the intestinal stage by weeks and the symptoms are difficult for the doctor to properly diagnose.
If the individual is heavily infected with worms, there is the possibility for partial or full blockage of the small intestines and the following symptoms:
- Severe abdominal pain
- Disrupted sleep
If ascariasis is severe, the symptoms are likely to be severe. In some cases, the pancreas might be inflamed. Severe infections particularly those that result to blockages can be deadly.
Once the mature female roundworms move into the intestines, the doctor can diagnose the condition by checking for the presence of eggs or live worms in the stool.
As for a lung infection, it is difficult to diagnose but the doctor will confirm it by checking for the presence of the larvae in the stomach fluids or lung.
When managing ascariasis, the doctor can effectively manage the infection with medications such as albendazole, mebendazole or pyrantel pamoate.