Ascariasis is an intestinal infection caused by the Ascaris lumbricoides parasite, the most common human intestinal worm in the world. The Ascaris parasite infects an estimated 1 billion people worldwide and is responsible for more than 60,000 deaths annually. Ascariasis most often occurs in warm tropical and sub-tropical climates, like Southeast Asia and Africa south of the Sahara, and is especially common in areas with poor sanitation and hygiene.
Here are some of the most common questions about detecting and treating ascariasis:
1. How is ascariasis spread?
Ascaris eggs pass through infected human feces. People become infected with ascariasis when they ingest Ascaris eggs through contaminated water, food, or soil. In addition to poor sanitation and hygiene practices, improper farming practices such as the use of untreated wastewater for irrigation or the use of human waste for fertilizer increase the spread of ascariasis.
2. What are the symptoms of ascariasis?
Many ascariasis infections cause no symptoms or only light abdominal discomfort. Heavier infections can present with fever, vomiting, loss of appetite, and coughing. Malnutrition, anemia, and impaired growth can occur in young children infected with the parasite, and in severe cases, both adults and children can develop intestinal or bowel obstructions and pneumonia.
3. How is ascariasis diagnosed?
The Ascaris worm can reach lengths of up to twelve inches, so the most common method of detection is seeing a worm or worm fragments in feces, vomit, or coughed-up phlegm. Your doctor can also examine a stool sample to detect Ascaris eggs. Finally, as the parasite can migrate throughout the body during its lifecycle, infection can be diagnosed through blood tests to detect the presence of antibodies.
4. How is ascariasis treated?
Treatment for ascariasis hinges on anthelminthic medications, drugs that rid the body of parasitic worms. Medication is typically administered for between one and three days. In areas where the parasite is common or where sanitation and hygiene practices are lacking, mass drug administration will sometimes take place, in which entire population groups are offered the treatment drug on an annual basis as a preventive measure. High-risk groups that receive this preventive treatment include preschool and school-age children, pregnant women and women of childbearing age, and adults in high-risk occupations, such as farmers.
5. How can I prevent ascariasis?
There is currently no vaccine for ascariasis, so proper sanitation and hygiene remains the best way to prevent infection. Always wash your hands with soap and water before handling food, and teach children proper handwashing techniques as well. Make sure that fruits and vegetables are thoroughly washed and peeled or cooked before eating, and avoid contact with soil that may be contaminated with human feces.
6. What are the different types of diagnostic tests for ascariasis?
In addition to visually detecting worms, worm fragments, or eggs in feces, the most common way to diagnose ascariasis is through enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) like the New Life Ascaris Serum Microwell ELISA test. This serological test detects Ascaris antibodies in the blood. It is particularly useful because it provides rapid results and does not require any special laboratory facilities, making it easy and cost-effective to administer.
Center for Disease Control (CDC). “Parasites – Ascariasis.” Available at https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/ascariasis/gen_info/faqs.html.
Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases. “Ascariasis.” Available at http://www.globalnetwork.org/ascariasis.