roundworm What are round worms

Roundworms are worms with a long round body. They vary in length from several millimetres to up to two metres. About 60 species (types) of roundworm are parasites of (can live in) humans. They usually live in the human gut. However, some species can travel from the gut to live in different parts of the body. Their eggs and larvae (tiny young worms) live in the soil and get into the body when a person gets them on his or her hands and then transfers them to the mouth. Some can also get into the body through the skin.

Roundworms commonly parasitic to humans include:

  • Ascarislumbricoides (also called human roundworm), which is the most common roundworm infection, and affects as many as one billion people worldwide.
  • Hookworm infections.
  • Guinea worm disease (dracunculiasis).
  • Filariasis, which is caused by thread-like filarial nematodes (roundworms) in the family Filarioidea (also known as filariae).

Cutaneous larva migrans is a skin infection that causes a rash. It can be caused by the larvae of various nematodes that get into the skin.

What is the life cycle of rounworms?

The life cycle of roundworms varies between species, if theworm is in thegut; the female worm lays many tiny eggs. These pass out with the stools (motions or faeces). Soil and water supplies may become contaminated with the eggs in areas of poor sanitation. Many roundworms have a complicated life cycle that includes both main hosts (large mammals such as humans or pigs) and intermediate hosts (small animals such as snails). Therefore, some roundworm infections occur as a result of eating uncooked contaminated food.

The eggs may survive for years in moist soil. In the soil the eggs develop into larvae (tiny young worms). Larvae can get into the human gut if you eat them with contaminated food. They are tiny and pass into the bloodstream and are carried to other parts of the body - such as the lungs. Larvae then develop further and then often travel back to the gut, where the larvae then grow into adult worms. An adult worm can lay many eggs, which are passed out with the stools.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms depend on the species of roundworm causing the infection. Generally people are symptomless. Heavy roundworm infection in children can cause nutritional problems resulting in poor growth and poor general well-being.Some people may develop high temperature (fever), tiredness,allergic rash (urticaria), abdominal (tummy) pains, feeling sick, vomiting and/or diarrhoea, nerve problems.The larvae in the lungs can sometimes cause symptoms such as wheeze, cough, and other chest problems.Other symptoms are specific to the different species of roundworm. For example, onchocerciasis can cause eye lesions, which may cause blindness.

Occasionally, roundworms cause a severe illness. For example, large numbers of worms can cause a blockage in the gut. In some people, roundworms cause serious infections to the liver or pancreas, or serious allergy symptoms.

How do you treat roundworm infection?

Control of roundworm infections involves, improving sanitation and health education. Treatments usually work well but eradication of roundworm infections from tropical countries presents a major challenge.

Drugs given to treat roundworm infection mebendazole is the usual medicine used for children aged over one year, and for adults who are not pregnant or breast-feeding. It comes as a tablet or drink. You take a dose twice a day for three days. However, strictly speaking, it is not licensed for use in children younger than two years of age. Piperazine is an alternative. This comes in a sachet and is added to a drink. A single large dose is taken. Children from three months onwards can be given piperazine to take, but it should not be taken by anyone who has epilepsy or liver disease.

Other medicines such as albendazole, levamisole, and ivermectin are used in countries where roundworms are common. Diethylcarbamazine or ivermectin are used for people with infection with filariasis.

For pregnant or breast-feeding women and newborn babies - your doctor will advise.

How do you prevent it?

Prevention of roundwroms can take place by eating only cooked food and by avoiding green vegetables and salads. It is best if children do not play in areas of poor sanitation, or where a human faeces is used as fertiliser. Always wash hands before eating or preparing food, and after going to the toilet or changing nappies.If travelling in an endemic area one can take preventative medicine such as piperazine.

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