Ascariasis is one of the commonest form of intestinal infection caused by a roundworm. Ascaris lumbricoides, this disease-causing parasite thrives in places with poor hygiene and sanitation conditions. About a quarter of the world's population (approximately 1 billion) is infected by Ascariasis. It is widespread in various parts of India.
Roundworms – the culprit
Ascariasis occurs due to consumption of food or water contaminated with roundworm eggs. When the roundworm eggs are ingested, they hatch in the intestine and become larvae and join the blood stream. They travel upwards to the lungs and throat through the airways and get back to the intestine by the swallowing action. They mate in the intestine and form eggs and the cycle continues resulting in a large population of the roundworms in the intestine. I know by now you may be wondering, geez! All that happening inside you? And the answer is yes! Worms live and propagate inside you, it's like you are their luxury apartment!
Now let's get back on the track and under the symptoms:
Initially, as the worm counts would be low, hardly any symptoms may be noticed. However, as their numbers increase nausea, vomiting worms, bloody sputum, worms exiting through nose and mouth, cough, passing worms in stool, wheezing, and stomach pain may be noticed. Too much concentration of these worms can lead to intestinal blockage, blockage of liver and pancreas, loss of appetite and growth impairment, especially in children.
What causes Ascariasis?
Contaminated food and water is the cause
Most people are infected by Ascariasis by unknowingly ingesting the infective egg. These eggs are found in soil where human feces is used as fertilizer and vegetables or fruit that are grown on contaminated soil containing feces of roundworm. The roundworm enters the fruits and vegetables through the soil and when humans consume them it enters their digestive system.
Children are most susceptible to the infection as they often tend to put their finger in the mouth after playing in the dirt and worm directly enters their intestine.
Dirty surroundings – Breeding grounds
Roundworms are found across the globe but Ascariasis is more prevalent in tropical and sub-tropical regions like Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Indian Subcontinent and warm months in some temperate regions. In these parts of the world, the sanitation is inadequate. Many places lack the basic hygiene and sanitation facilities. Further, the weather is warm and conducive for the worms to grow and multiply.
Thanks to the various awareness drives, the infection is reducing in India and so is the mortality rate.
Stay clean! Stay healthy!
Few tips to avoid Ascariasis:
- Maintain good hygiene and sanitation at home and surroundings
- Wash hands with soap and water or sanitizer before touching food items and after using the toilet
- Eat hygienically cooked food
- Do not consume edible items left uncovered
- Wash vegetables and fruits thoroughly if consuming raw
- Children and even adults can be de-wormed regularly to remove the worms if any
Ascariasis does not require major treatment if diagnosed at early stage. Most often the symptoms go off even before the worms die away. As the infection spreads through unhygienic sanitation conditions, being cautious about consuming unsafe water and food and ensuring the environment around is neat and clean including the cooking surfaces and clothing will keep Ascariasis at bay.