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Roundworms

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Roundworms are also called nematodes. The term includes several different types of parasites with long, round bodies. They can range in size; some are visible to the naked eye, and some are only visible under a microscope. Roundworms and their eggs are found in soil, and are transmitted through the soil to feet, hands, and mouth, entering through the skin. The parasite then goes on to live in the human intestines and from there often causes a wide variety of health problems.

ROUNDWORMS SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

Roundworms are everywhere in the world, and roundworm infections are widespread throughout the world. Some of the different kinds of roundworms include pinworm, hookworm, whipworm, ascaris lumbricoides, strongloides. Trichinella spiralis, strongyloidiasis, trichinosis, and over 15,000 more species.

Each of these different types of roundworm can cause slightly different diseases and symptoms, and can be treated in different ways. The symptoms of roundworm include fever, cough, asthma, diarrhea, sensitivity to light, sweating, and muscle weakness.

There are several common forms of roundworm. These include:

Anisakiasis

This type of roundworm infection is caused by anisakid roundworms. It is not primarily found in humans, but is found in whales, seals, and dolphins. The feces of these animals are then eaten by crabs, and they work their way through the food chain to humans. Once inside humans, they attach themselves to the gastrointestinal lining, and eventually die within these tissues. Anisakiasis causes severe symptoms that affect the stomach and intestines. In some case, this can result in a mild chronic illness that lasts weeks, or in severe cases, even years. You can become violently ill, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and severe stomach cramps. In some cases these symptoms are so acute that they are mistaken for appendicitis. The infection usually passes after all of the larvae die, but sometimes it develops into a chronic long-term infestation.

Ascariasis

This is one of the most widespread parasites in the word, affecting over 1.3 billion people worldwide. It is caused by the ascaris lumbricoides roundworm, one of the largest of the roundworms that infect humans, and is transmitted through soil when people eat unwashed vegetables or eat with dirty hands. Adult worms can grow up to 14 inches long, and release up to 200,000 eggs every day. The eggs hatch into larvae, and these larvae go through the intestinal wall and up into the lungs. After 10 days in the lungs, the larvae then move into the upper lung passages, where they are swallowed back into the intestines. The first symptoms someone may notice when they have one of these infections concern the lungs, such as chest pain, difficulty breathing, coughing, and lung inflammation. Further symptoms involving the intestines include abdominal pain, nausea, and intestinal blockage.
Roundworms
Image: Roundworms

Toxocariasis

This roundworm infection is also called visceral larva migrans, or VMS, because the larvae hatch inside the intestines and then migrate throughout the body to other organs. The type of roundworm that causes this illness is usually found in dogs and cats, but when it is found it humans, it is usually found in children between the ages of two and four. Symptoms of toxocariasis include fever, coughing or wheezing, a swollen liver, skin rashes, and lung inflammations.

Trichuriasis

This form of roundworm is also called whipworm, because the worm has a slender, whiplike front end. Fully grown whipworms are about an inch long. Trichuriasis occurs most in warm and humid climates, such as that of the southeastern United States. A mild infestation of whipworms may produce very few, if any, symptoms, but if the infection is severe, you might experience abdominal cramps as well as symptoms that resemble amoebic dysentery. If trichuriasis is allowed to continue untreated in children, it may cause anemia and even developmental retardation.

ROUNDWORMS DIAGNOSIS

Roundworm can be challenging to diagnose, since many of the first symptoms—such as diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps-- mirror other illnesses. Therefore, your doctor may consider the possibility of roundworm based upon your lifestyle—for example, if the patient is a child and has been playing barefoot in the dirt, they may be at a higher risk for one of the forms of roundworm. If you are determined to be at risk, the doctor may look at the lining of your rectum, where adult worms may appear. They may also appear in the patient’s feces and vomit. In some cases, tissue samples will be taken to analyze for the presence of larvae, or x-rays can determine whether there are worms in the stomach or intestines. Some doctors will use an endoscope to look closely within the body for the presence of worms, larvae or eggs. Blood tests can determine the presence of roundworm, but they cannot differentiate between different types.

ROUNDWORMS TREATMENT

Many of these infections can be treated with medications called anthelminthics. These drugs destroy roundworms by either blocking them from feeding or by paralyzing them. These drugs are very effective, but they do not prevent you from being reinfected again at a later date. Sometimes larvae must be removed with an endoscope or through surgery, or through a process called nasogastric suction, which simply suctions out the worms and larvae in the intestines.


The possibility of recovering from a roundworm infection is promising for most people, though the severity of the infestation can make the recovery a challenge. Children, in particular, can suffer from severe malabsorption of nutrients leading to malnutrition. Ascariasis is the most dangerous of the roundworm infections, because the worm grows long enough to perforate the bile or pancreatic ducts. Other complications include masses of worms blocking the intestines, which can often lead to death, especially in children.

There are no vaccines enabling people to avoid infestation, and having once been infected does not mean that you have any immunity against being infected in the future. Prevention is entirely based upon sanitation methods, including regular washing of the hands, throrough washing and cooking of food, keeping children from playing barefoot or in places where there are animal feces, and by having pets regularly de-wormed so that a roundworm infection may not spread.
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