By Enyeribe Ejiogu ([email protected])
Of all medications hawked and sold in commuter buses by itinerant drug sellers, particularly in Lagos, is the group of drugs categorised as worm expellers. Again, a number of respected pharmaceutical companies work in collaboration with non-governmental or faith-based organizations and schools to hold regular enlightenment activities, during which they also carry out mass de-worming exercises.
The growing interest in worms is driven by the compelling need to prevent the damage, which these intestinal parasites cause in the human body. It is to be noted that some worms can live in the body for a long time without causing symptoms or requiring treatment.
Whereas children are more likely to be infected by parasitic worms, infection is widespread, affecting people of all ages throughout the world. The commonest kinds of parasitic worms include roundworm (Ascaris lumbricoides), whipworm (Trichuris trichiura) and hookworm (Ancylostoma duodenale and Necator americanus), tapeworm and blood fluke.
These three types of worms that live in the intestines tend to increase their numbers through re-infection of the same person. In several instances, a person may be infected with more than one kind of worm.
The parasitic worms survive by feeding voraciously on the nutrients meant for the body. The toxic wastes they generate often cause illness.
Roundworms exist worldwide, but more predominant in tropical countries, and grow up to the size of pencils. Hookworms migrate down the digestive tract where they attach to intestinal walls and ingest blood. The victim may experience nausea, indigestion, diarrhea, anemia and listlessness.
Whipworms are small, measuring about three to five centimeters long, and infect the large intestine. Trichinae are tiny roundworms found in the muscle of infected animals, usually pigs, and cause trichinosis, a disease characterized by intestinal disorders, fever, muscular swelling, pain and insomnia. People who eat pork need to be extra careful given that a small, uncooked portion can lead to infection. For this very reason, pork must be cooked for long until it is well done.
On the other hand, tapeworms are long like ribbon. People get infected when they eat they under cooked beef or pork. Tapeworms live in the intestines and absorb nutrients through their skin. People with tapeworm infections feel dizzy, have unclear thinking, high and low blood sugar levels, hunger pains, poor digestion and allergies.
The various species of flukes – tiny flat worms that look like odd-shaped pancakes – include blood flukes, fish flukes, intestinal flukes, liver flukes, lung flukes, lymph flukes and pancreatic flukes. Humans can become infected by eating raw or under cooked seafood or wading through infected water. Once inside the body, flukes migrate to various organs and may cause liver swelling, jaundice, weakened lungs and blood clots.
The troublesome thing about worms is their enormous ability to proliferate and produce thousands of eggs at a time, which hatch into larvae.
People pick up the freshly hatched larvae as they walk barefooted on soil that has been contaminated with human feaces from an infected person.
Infection may also occur through contaminated water, fruits, vegetables, grains, poultry, fish or meat. As children spend more time playing outside or in the school, they’re more likely than adults to be exposed to infection by parasitic worms.
In the case of roundworm and whipworm, people can become infected when they ingest the worm eggs, either by eating contaminated food (e.g. fruits or vegetables that have been watered with water containing contaminated soil), or by geophagic activity (ingesting contaminated soil directly). People become infected with hookworm when the larvae burrow through the skin of bare feet.
Dangers of worm infestation
A number of health conditions have been associated with worm infection. They include diarrhoea, gastrointestinal upset, vaginal irritation, joint pain, nervous diseases, immune dysfunction and chronic fatigue. Long term, undetected infestation can cause many systemic problems. For people who are very old, very young or may have immune deficiencies, infestation by parasitic worm can be extremely problematic and life threatening.
Infected individuals may feel bloated, tired and hungry. They may have allergies, anaemia, lethargy, fuzzy thinking, headaches and fluctuating blood sugar levels that rise and fall like a roller coaster ride.
They may experience restlessness, hair loss, diarrhea, arthritis, mineral imbalances and nighttime teeth grinding. One or more symptoms may occur to a greater or lesser degree depending upon the individual.
Especially with heavier infections, intestinal parasites can also cause symptoms such as: loose, foul-smelling stools, diarrhea, mucous in stools, abdominal cramps and gas, loss of appetite, distended abdomen, coughing, fever, vomiting and listlessness and general feeling of being unwell.
These symptoms may last for weeks and return several times a year. Other parasites are nearly harmless (at least in small quantities) and often don’t cause symptoms.
How to deal with worms
It is necessary for individuals, especially children, to dewormed regularly. Today, many over-the-counter brands of worm expellers containing mebendazole as the active therapeutic agent that kills roundworms are freely available in pharmacies across the country.
And they are really affordable by the average family. These drugs should be taken as prescribed on the packet.
Treatment should be repeated every three months. These drugs are not known to cause major side effects. They are effective and efficacious, and go a long way to thwart the negative effects of heavy worm infestation.
However, if you are experiencing certain symptoms you cannot explain, you need to see a doctor who will properly diagnose the cause and offer the right treatment after proper medical laboratory investigation.
● Be sure that all meat, chicken and fish is cooked thoroughly.
● Don’t use a microwave to cook meat, chicken or fish. Microwaves often don’t heat foods completely.
● Wash all fruits and vegetables in clean water before eating (to prevent roundworm and whipworm infection)
● Always wash your hands, kitchen counters and utensils with hot soapy water after cutting or handling raw meat, chicken or fish.
● Be sure that all meat, chicken and fish is cooked thoroughly.
● Always wear shoes or slippers (to prevent hookworm infection)
● Do not use water from septic tanks or other potentially contaminated sources for watering vegetables
● Teach children proper hygiene i.e. washing hands after going to the toilet, playing outside and before preparing or eating food.
● If you have parasites, you can reduce the likelihood of passing them on to others by carefully washing your hands after having bowel movements and cleaning the genital area before having sex.
● Wear gloves when changing the cat box. Deworm pets periodically.
● Avoid swallowing river, stream or lake water when swimming in them. Better yet, avoid swimming in them altogether.
● Eat high-fiber foods and avoid sugar and other refined carbohydrates.
● Keep your body slightly acidic by including pumpkin seeds, calmyrna figs, garlic, apple cider vinegar, cranberry juice and pomegranates in your diet.
Other health complications
As worm populations build up over time, many of the health problems caused by these worms become chronic. The worms can cause malnutrition as they rob the body of food – either by reducing appetite, or by preventing food from being absorbed properly once it has been eaten. Children with chronic worm infections and large numbers of worms may become stunted and underweight.
Heavy infections with roundworm can cause bowel obstruction. Intestinal worms – especially hookworm – can contribute to anaemia by causing intestinal bleeding and thus loss of blood.
The larger the number of worms, the more likely they are to make a person ill. Chronic infections can lead to long-term retardation of mental and physical development and, in very severe infections, even death.