Intestinal worms are common in Nigeria and in Sub Sahara Africa as it accounts for a significant amount of morbidity and mortality especially in children less than 5 years of age living in the rural communities. These intestinal parasites are gradually eating us because they reside in our body, derives their nutrients from us, reproduce in us and cause diseases. In this article, we are going to look at 10 things Nigerians need to know about tape worm, hook worm and other intestinal worms.
1. Mode of transmission: Intestinal worms e.g. tape worm is acquired by consumption of improperly cooked beef of pork meat; others are transmitted by the consumption of food and water contaminated by ova of worms’ food and via the skin when the worms penetrate the skin (hook worm).
2. Common symptoms of intestinal worms: Typically, intestinal worms may cause no symptoms in adult. However, symptoms like anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pains, generalized body weakness, abdominal bloating, frank intestinal obstruction, itching around the anal region, blood in feaces and malnutrition are common symptoms associated with intestinal worms.
3. What is Cysticercosis? This is a life threatening infection caused by the migration of tape worm larva cyst to the brain. This causes an intense inflammatory reaction in the brain. This frequently leads to seizures and death if not diagnosed and treated early. Unfortunately, diagnosis of cysticercosis in resource poor countries may be difficult despite the prevalence of the disease in such communities.
4. How is the diagnosis made: Diagnosis is made after medical history and examination, sample of feaces are taken for stool microscopy where the ova and even segments of the adult worms can be identified. This provides an effective and rapid way of confirming infection with intestinal worms. Others like pin worm is diagnosed by placing an adhesive tape on the ski around the anus overnight which is then removed and examined for ova of pin worm.
5. Is treatment available? Intestinal worms can easily be treated. Drugs used in the treatment of intestinal worms are readily available and there are also affordable. These drugs can be obtained without any prescription but it is highly advised to consult your physician for accurate diagnosis and treatment.
6. How can I prevent the disease: Intestinal worms can be prevented by proper washing of hands, good personal hygiene, proper washing of fruits and vegetables before consumption, wearing of shoes outdoors, thoroughly cooking meats fish and meals before consumption, treatment of our pets and routinely taking de-worming drugs.
7. Can intestinal worms cause anemia? This is a common question people ask and the simple answer is ‘Yes’. Although not common with all worms, anemia is typically caused by hook worm. Hook worm attaches to the mucosa lining of the intestines leading to significant amount of bleeding and over time, this translates to iron deficiency anemia.
8. Can it be acquired sexually? The answer is No. Intestinal worms is not classified as a sexually transmitted disease as it can also be acquire via accidental ingestion of the ova of the worms or via skin penetration.
9. Can it affect other organs? Intestinal worms are typically confined to the intestines; however, worms can also be seen in other organs of the body. Liver flukes are seen in the liver and there are notorious for causing severe liver inflammation, liver disease and liver failure. Also, the eggs of the larva stage of these worms may migrate to organs like the lungs, spleen and the brain causing severe and intense inflammation and damage to that organ.
10. Intestinal worms can cause obstruction of the intestines: This is a true fact that we should all know. Obstruction of the intestines is a common complication of intestinal worm especially Ascaris commonly referred to as ‘round worm’. These worms colonize the intestinal and may completely obstruct the intestines hereby preventing digestion and it may lead to surgical exploration of the intestines to get rid of the worms.