Helminthiasis refers to a disease caused by infection with parasitic worms called helminthes. Individuals come in contact with helminthes through touching soil, drinking water, or eating food that has been infected with worms or their eggs. The worms often infect the intestines, where they grow and lay eggs. The eggs do not hatch in the affected individual, but are passed in the stool where they can be spread to others.
The effects of helminthiasis range from having no symptoms to deadly. Common symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, rash, weakness, and general discomfort. Infection may affect the gastrointestinal tract of the affected individuals by feeding on nutrients in the intestines, decreasing nutrient absorption, and causing a loss of appetite. Children who are infected by helminths may experience growth delay and cognitive deficits due to poor nutrient absorption. Some helminths may cause intestinal bleeding which may lower hemoglobin or red blood cell levels, known as anemia.
The areas of the world most affected include tropical areas in the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, and East Asia. People who are at the highest risk include young children, pregnant women, mothers, and people with frequent exposure to soil. There may be genetic factors that cause some individuals to be more affected by the worms than others. There may also be the development of a protective immunity with age.
The spread of helminthiasis can be reduced through proper sanitation, especially of fecal matter, and through education about good hygiene practices. Treatment is required to prevent the further spread of the infection. Medications are available as treatment, and surgery may be used in severe infections if there is a blockage of the intestines. If you think you may be affected by helminthiasis, talk to your doctor about the most appropriate treatment plan.