Ascariasis

What is Ascariasis?

Considered the most common intestinal worm infection, ascariasis is a condition that may develop after food or drinks infected with parasitic roundworm eggs are consumed. It’s often related to exposure to poor sanitation or results from poor personal hygiene habits.

Progression of Ascariasis

After the worm is consumed, eggs hatch and larvae settle in the small intestine. The larvae then travel to the lungs and eventually back to the small intestine. During this journey, the traveling larvae may cause eosinophilic pneumonia (accumulation of white blood cells in the lungs that disrupt airflow) to develop. Adult worms live anywhere from 10 months to 2 years.

What are the Symptoms of Ascariasis?

Ascariasis doesn’t usually present any noticeable symptoms.

Symptoms include

  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Vomiting that includes worms
  • Shortness of breath
  • Malnourished appearance
  • Stomach pain
  • Low-grade fever

Ascariasis Causes

The Ascaris lumbricoides is a roundworm that is also known as the “large roundworm” of humans because it can reach lengths of 14 inches as opposed to many of the smaller types. These type of worms are parasitic and the number may determine whether there are any symptoms since about 85% of all cases do not have any signs. Whenever objects are contaminated with certain types of fecal matter which contain eggs then this can be problematic and lead to cases of Ascariasis.

Contaminated vegetables and water are two of the most often seen transmission vectors, but the number of items which can hold these infectious eggs is practically infinite and can include things as diverse as money, furniture, and hands. Wastewater recycling was the cause of some serious outbreaks in the 80s and early 90s with the crop fields which the water was returned to becoming sources of the disease.

How is Ascariasis Treated?

Treatment

The worms are killed or paralyzed with medication. This is often the only treatment necessary for mild forms of ascariasis. In some cases, an endoscopy may be used if a blockage results from an accumulation of worms in the intestine. Surgery is rarely necessary or recommended. Most people with the condition recover from symptoms without any treatment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ascariasis affects about a billion people worldwide at one time or another. While children tend to have more severe symptoms, it’s a condition that can affect anyone. Ascariasis is rare in developed nations. Prevention is achieved with improved sanitation and the distribution of de-worming medications in areas where ascariasis is common.

Diagnosis

Ascariasis is diagnosed with a blood test often coupled with an eosinophil count. An abdominal X-ray or other type of image test may be ordered and a stool exam may be conducted to look for the presence of eggs or adult worms.

Ascariasis Prevention

General sanitation is one of the most important keys to preventing the disease Ascariasis. Properly functioning and clean toilets is one of the primary things which should be considered in every community with the less developed countries sometimes still having problems maintaining the proper infrastructure to uphold a solid barrier against infections. Handwashing with soap and general cleanliness can help to reduce the amount of surface area which is affected.

This is especially true when someone in the vicinity has already been known to be a carrier. In areas where wastewater recycling has been somewhat irresponsible, then it can be productive to go ahead and upgrade the procedures so that this is not a method of transmission for the problematic roundworms. Untreated human feces should not be used as fertilizer in any instance, both because of the problems that it has posed in the past and the links to Ascariasis which have been confirmed.

Resources
Last Reviewed:
September 12, 2016
Last Updated:
November 10, 2017