Worms are parasites that enter the body and are able to live and feed off the person they have entered. Antihelmintics are medicines to treat worm infections. Mebendazole and piperazine with senna are the most commonly prescribed medicine for worms.
What are worms?
Worms (sometimes called helminths) are parasites that enter the body and are able to live and feed off the person they have entered. They are usually divided into three groups:
- Roundworms - the most common roundworm infections are thought to be caused by threadworms, ascaris, hookworms, and trichuris. Roundworm eggs usually enter the body by the person eating food or drinking water that contains eggs. The eggs live and hatch in the intestine (gut).
- Tapeworms - these worms live in the gut. People usually become infected by eating raw or uncooked meat.
- Flukeworms - these worms can live in the blood vessels, gut, lungs, or liver. You usually become infected with fluke worms by swimming or washing in fresh water that contains flukeworms. An infection with flukeworms causes a tropical disease call schistosomiasis.
Most worm infections occur in warm tropical countries or developing countries where food and water may not be clean. It is thought that millions of people around the world are infected with worms at any one time. Threadworms are spread by being in contact with someone who is already infected with threadworms.
What medicines are prescribed?
Medicine prescribed depend upon the type of infection:
- Mebendazole - used to treat threadworms, roundworms, whipworm, and hookworm infections.
- Levamisole - used to treat roundworms.
- Niclosamide - used to treat tapeworms.
- Praziquantel - used to treat tapeworms and schistosomiasis.
- Albendazole - used to treat hookworms, cutaneous larvae migrans, and strongyloides infections.
- Diethylcarbamazine - used to treat filaricides infections.
- Ivermectin - used to treat filaricides, cutaneous larvae migrans, and strongyloides infections.
- Tiabendazole - used to treat cutaneous larvae migrans.
What length of treatment is required?
The length of treatment required is usually quite short (at most a few days), but will depend on what type of worm you have and which medicine has been prescribed. For example, for threadworms - mebendazole and piperazine are usually given as a single one-off dose and this is repeated two weeks later. For whipworm, or common roundworm infections, mebendazole is given twice a day for three days. If Piperazine is used to treat roundworm infections, a one-off dose is given, but this may be repeated every month for three months if your doctor thinks that there is a high risk of you getting roundworms again.
Side-effects caused by medicines?
Side-effects caused by these medicines are a lot, but important complications are stomach upsets such as cramps, diarrhoea and nausea.
Who are people who should avoid taking these medicines?
If for some reason one medicine has caused a side-effect or there is a reason you cannot take one, your doctor can choose a different type of medicine that will suit you.
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