Helminthiasis, also known as worm infection, is any macro parasitic disease of humans and other animals in which a part of the body is infected with parasitic worms, known as helminths.

Helminthic infections are a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide and are prominent among neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). The NTDs include schistosomiasis and the ‘soil transmitted helminths’ (STH), a group of parasites whose life cycle usually depends on a period of development outside the human host, typically in moist, warm soil.

CLASSIFICATION OF HELMINTHIASIS

There are numerous species of these parasites and they are broadly classified into;

  1. Tapeworms
  2. Flukes, and
  3. Roundworms.

They often live in the gastrointestinal tract of their hosts, but they may also burrow into other organs, where they induce physiological damage.

HELMINTH TYPES CAUSING INFECTIONS

There are several types but the most common worldwide are;

  1. Intestinal nematodes or soil-transmitted helminths. This includes Ascaris lumbricoides, Trichuris trichiura, Necator americanus, Strongyloides stercoralis and Ancylostoma duodenale.
  2. Schistosomes (parasites of schistosomiasis)
  3. Filarial worms, which cause lymphatic filariasis (LF) and onchocerciasis.

HEALTH EFFECTS OF HELMINTHIASIS

The effect of helminthiasis depends on the site of the infestation within the body, the type of worm involved, the number of worms and their volume, the type of damage the infesting worms cause and, the immunological response of the body.

Some effects often seen include;

  1. Tear in the outer layer of the intestine leading to peritonitis.
  2. Arthritis, oedema and eosinophilia due to Immune-mediated inflammatory changes.
  3. Chronic illnesses such as anaemia, vitamin deficiencies and stunted growth.
  4. Decreased concentration and difficulty with abstract cognitive tasks.
  5. Poor birth outcome and severe morbidity

PREVENTION AND CONTROL OF HELMINTHIASIS

Helminth infections are prevented by;

1. Avoiding ingestion of infective eggs, larvae, or intermediate hosts infected with larvae

2. Preventing contact of bare skin with infective larvae

3. Avoiding bites of infected vectors.

4. Drinking safe water

5. Properly cleaning

6. Cooking, and otherwise preparing food;

7. adequate hand washing and general hygiene;

8. using measures to avoid insect bites, among others.

9. Chemoprophylaxis with diethylcarbamazine can prevent infection with Loa loa, and artemisin derivatives have prophylactic activity against Schistosoma japonicum.

Within our living environment, we can be protected by interventions such as provision of clean water and sanitation; enforcement of appropriate food-producing practices to prevent infection of fish, meat, and vegetables; vector control; and prevention or treatment of infections in domestic animals.

Source: WHO, Wikipedia, Cleveland Clinic, and Science Direct

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