Ascariasis is a human disease. It is caused by the parasitic roundworm name as Ascaris lumbricoides. Perhaps as many as one quarter of the world’s people are infected, and ascariasis is particularly prevalent in tropical regions and in areas of poor hygiene. Other species of the genus Ascaris are parasitic and can cause disease in domestic animals.
They may however be accompanied by inflammation, fever, and diarrhea, and serious problems may develop if the worms migrate to other parts of the body.
Ascariasis is the most common intestinal worm infection. It is found in association with poor personal hygiene, poor sanitation. In many developing countries human feces are used for fertilizer, or poor sanitary facilities allow human waste to mix with local soil in yards, ditches and fields. The eggs can survive in soil for years to reinfect members of the community. The eggs infect their hosts when humans eat the contaminated vegetables and fruit grown in that soil.Once in the stomach, immature worms hatch from the eggs. The larvae are carried through the lungs and then to the throat where they are swallowed. Once swallowed, they reach the intestines and develop into adult worms. During movement through the lungs the larvae may produce an uncommon form of pneumonia called eosinophilic pneumonia.
It is estimated that 1 billion people are infected worldwide. Ascariasis occurs in all ages, though children seem to be affected more severely than adults.
Although no symptoms may occur, the greater the number of worms involved in the infestation, the more severe a child’s symptoms are likely to be. Children are more likely than adults to develop gastrointestinal symptoms because they have smaller intestines and are at greater risk of developing intestinal obstruction. The following symptoms may be seen with mild infestation:
- worms in stool
- coughing up worms
- loss of appetite
- shortness of breath
- abdominal distention
- severe stomach or abdominal pain
- intestinal blockage
- biliary tract blockage
More than 796 Ascaris lumbricoides worms weighing 550 g [19 ounces] were recovered at autopsy from a 2-year-old South African girl. The worms had caused torsion and gangrene of the ileum, which was interpreted as the cause of death.
Anti-parasite (antihelminthic) medications are the first line of treatment against ascariasis. The most common are mebendazole (Vermox), albendazole (Albenza) and pyrantel. These medications work by killing the adult worms as well as the larvae and eggs to prevent reinfection. You may have mild gastrointestinal side effects during the course of treatment, and you may need to take multiple doses to get rid of the infestation completely.
Some recent studies exist in the medical literature suggesting that sun-dried papaya seeds may reduce infections by a large factor. The adult dosage is one tablespoon of the seed powder in a glass of sugar water once a week for two weeks.