A low-down of the most common worm-infestations amongst adults in India.
In today’s world, eating out has become the preferred choice rather than the exception. We all love trying out new food joints and tingle our taste buds with various cuisines but it is important to note that eating out comes with its share of risks and ailments. One of the most common effects is worm infestation in adults, especially in tropical countries like ours. Also, being a developing nation with its share of illiteracy, hygiene is not given much priority by chefs and food handlers. The main form of transmission is through faeco-oral route. Other modes are through sexual contact (between mouth and anus) and also carriers like flies, cockroaches and rodents. Common worms that humans are susceptible to include roundworm, hookworm, tapeworm, and threadworm.
Symptoms: Amoebiasis is a common infection of the gastro-intestinal tract and liver. People suffering from this infestation may or may not show symptoms like abdominal pain, mild diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis or liver abscess or may remain asymptomatic carriers.
In amoebic dysentery, blood and mucus is found in the stool. Amoebic hepatitis is characterised by fever, weakness and right-sided abdominal pain. Rarely the parasite migrates to the lungs, brain or spleen causing an abscess. In the skin it may cause ulcers.
Ascariasis or roundworm is the most common type of helminthic (parasitic) infestation.
Spread: Roundworms enter the body through the faeco-oral route like polluted water, raw vegetables and in nails of children playing in the mud. Children are more commonly affected than adults.
Symptoms: Symptoms seen are malnutrition, malaise, fever and those of pneumonia like cough and breathlessness. Allergic symptoms like swelling of face, conjunctivitis and urticarial (skin rash) are noted.
Hookworms are of 2 types, one found in north India and a different one in south India.
Spread: Mode of infection is through the skin of feet while walking barefoot in contaminated soil.
Symptoms: Symptoms are dermatitis (skin infection) itching and bronchitis or pneumonia if the worm enters the lungs. Hookworms are habitual blood suckers – this leads to chronic blood loss. Also, iron-deficiency anaemia causes skin pallor. You may also see an abnormal appetite, as well as eating of mud (pica).
Dracunculiasis or guinea-worm disease
Spread: Guinea-worm disease is spread by the contamination of drinking water by cyclops (found in fresh water) and generally affects the tissues below the skin, in the leg and foot.
Symptoms: The worm releases a fluid causing skin blisters, itchiness and burning.
Trichuris trichuria or whipworm infection
Spread: Whipworm infection occurs through food and water.
Symptoms: Generally the person remains asymptomatic or may have abdominal pain, diarrhoea, loss of weight and blood and mucus in stools. If it reaches the appendix it can cause acute appendicitis which must be treated immediately.
Tapeworms are seen in sheep, cattle and pigs also and are of different types.
The fish tapeworm causes abdominal pain, diarrhoea and anaemia.
Pork tapeworm and beef tapeworm is ingested when you eat raw meat.
Symptoms: Symptoms are abdominal discomfort, indigestion, anaemia and diarrhoea alternating with constipation.
The dog tapeworm causes a hydatid (parasitic infection) cyst in the brain, lungs, liver or other organs. Rupture of a hydatid cyst causes an anaphylactic (acute multi-system) reaction, which may be fatal.
Treatment of worm infestations
Most worm infestations are most responsive to anti-helminthic drugs. Stool and blood examinations are essential to identify the worm and begin specific treatment. Long-term effects like anaemia must be treated with iron supplements.
Illustration by Inger M, via sxc.hu