Ascariasis is an intestinal infection caused by the round worm known as ascaria. It is the most common intestinal worm infection and it is estimated to affect over one billion people globally at any one time. .
The infection is associated with poor personal hygiene and poor sanitation and is acquired thorough contaminated food and drink and also from places where human faeces is used as fertilizer. Although anyone at any age can become infected, children are more susceptible. Once ingested the eggs attach themselves to the intestinal wall where they begin to hatch and release larvae into the intestinal tract, which then migrate into the blood stream and into the lungs.
Whilst in the lungs larvae begin to develop and whilst still immature it exits thorough the large airways in the lungs and into the throat, it is then swallowed back into the stomach then on to the intestines. Once it lodges in the intestines it can grow to between 6 to 13 inches in length and when fully mature, it lays eggs which are then passed out in the faeces to possibly infect others.
Whilst still in the lungs however, it can cause an unusual type of pneumonia known as acute eosinophilic pneumonia. Other complications include gut perforation, liver ulcers; either partial or complete intestinal blockage caused by multiplication of the worms. The worms can sometimes also relocate to other organs in the body.
Some of the most common symptoms are similar to those experienced by asthma sufferers such as coughing, wheezing, breathlessness. Other symptoms include vomiting, with worms in the vomit and stool; worms exiting though the nostrils and mouth, skin rashes, severe abdominal pain, poor food absorption leading to weigh loss, restlessness and disturbed sleep patterns are also common symptoms of the disease.
Symptoms can be treated effectively with drugs such as Albendazole or Mebendazole, which are Anthelmintic drug, effective in the treatment and elimination of parasitic infections. They act by interfering with the metabolism of carbohydrates, which is the energy source on which the ascaria worm feeds. The medication is prescribed over a three day period and has few side-effects. The stool is re-examined two to three three weeks after treatment and if still found to be present in the stool the treatment is repeated.
Ascariasis is often mis-diagnosed as numerous other diseases, including bowel obstruction, acute pancreatitis and asthma. However, conclusive diagnostic test includes an abdominal X-Ray and blood count, the most conclusive of which is a stool test for worms and larvae.
It must be said however, that some people recover without treatment, but still continue in some cases to carry the worms in their body.
‘Prevention is better than cure’ is the perfect adage as far as Ascariasis is concerned. Hand washing is essential, whilst being extra careful not to purchase food from street vendors, especially when travelling abroad to third world locations.