What is ascariasis?
Ascariasis, or roundworm infection of the intestines, is common throughout the world in both temperate and tropical areas where sanitation and hygiene are poor. In those areas, everyone may be harboring the parasite that causes the infection.
How common is ascariasis?
Ascariasis is most common in places without modern sanitation. Infections caused by roundworms are fairly common. Ascariasis is the most common roundworm infection. About 10 percent of the developing world is infected with intestinal worms, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of ascariasis?
Most people infected with ascariasis have no symptoms. Moderate to heavy infestations cause various symptoms, depending on which part of your body is affected.
After you ingest the microscopic ascariasis eggs, they hatch in your small intestine and the larvae migrate through your bloodstream or lymphatic system into your lungs. At this stage, you may experience signs and symptoms similar to asthma or pneumonia, including:
- Persistent cough
- Shortness of breath
After spending six to 10 days in the lungs, the larvae travel to your throat, where you cough them up and then swallow them.
The larvae mature into adult worms in your small intestine, and the adult worms typically live in the intestines until they die. In mild or moderate ascariasis, the intestinal infestation can cause:
- Vague abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhea or bloody stools
If you have a large number of worms in your intestine, you might have:
- Severe abdominal pain
- Weight loss or malnutrition
- A worm in your vomit or stool
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:
- Persistent abdominal pain
What causes ascariasis?
Ascariasis isn’t spread directly from person to person. Instead, a person has to come into contact with soil mixed with human feces that contain ascariasis eggs or infected water. In many developing countries, human feces are used for fertilizer, or poor sanitary facilities allow human waste to mix with soil in yards, ditches and fields.
Small children often play in dirt, and infection can occur if they put their dirty fingers in their mouths. Unwashed fruits or vegetables grown in contaminated soil also can transmit the ascariasis eggs.
What increases my risk for ascariasis?
There are many risk factors for ascariasis, such as:
- Most people who have ascariasis are 10 years old or younger. Children in this age group may be at higher risk because they’re more likely to play in dirt.
- Warm climate. In the United States, ascariasis is more common in the Southeast, but it’s more prevalent in developing countries with warm temperatures year-round.
- Poor sanitation. Ascariasis is widespread in developing countries where human feces are allowed to mix with local soil.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is ascariasis diagnosed?
In heavy infestations, it’s possible to find worms after you cough or vomit, and the worms can come out of other body openings, such as your mouth or nostrils. If this happens to you, take the worm to your doctor to identify it and prescribe the proper treatment.
Mature female ascariasis worms in your intestine begin laying eggs. These eggs travel through your digestive system and eventually can be found in your stool.
To diagnose ascariasis, your doctor will examine your stool for the microscopic eggs and larvae. But eggs won’t appear in stool until at least 40 days after you’re infected. And if you’re infected with only male worms, you won’t have eggs.
Your blood can be tested for the presence of an increased number of a certain type of white blood cell, called eosinophils. Ascariasis can elevate your eosinophils, but so can other types of health problems.
- X-rays. If you’re infested with worms, the mass of worms may be visible in an X-ray of your abdomen. In some cases, a chest X-ray can reveal the larvae in your lungs.
- An ultrasound may show worms in your pancreas or liver. This technology uses sound waves to create images of internal organs.
- CT scans or MRIs. Both types of tests create detailed images of your internal structures, which can help your doctor detect worms that are blocking ducts in your liver or pancreas. CT scans combine X-ray images taken from many angles; MRI uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field.
How is ascariasis treated?
Typically, only infections that cause symptoms need to be treated. In some cases, ascariasis will resolve on its own.
Anti-parasite medications are the first line of treatment against ascariasis. The most common are:
- Albendazole (Albenza)
- Ivermectin (Stromectol)
These medications, taken for one to three days, kill the adult worms. Side effects include mild abdominal pain or diarrhea.
In cases of heavy infestation, surgery may be necessary to remove worms and repair damage they’ve caused. Intestinal obstruction or perforation, bile duct obstruction, and appendicitis are complications that may require surgery.
Lifestyle changes & Home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage ascariasis?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with Ascariasis:
- Practice good hygiene. Before handling food, always wash your hands with soap and water. Wash fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
- Use care when traveling. Use only bottled water, and avoid raw vegetables unless you can peel and wash them yourself. As a rule, eat only foods that are cooked and hot.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
- http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ascariasis/basics/definition/con-20027084. Accessed 3 Mar 2017
- http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/ascariasis. Accessed 3 Mar 2017
- http://www.healthline.com/health/ascariasis?s_con_rec=true. Accessed 3 Mar 2017
Review Date: August 7, 2017 | Last Modified: September 12, 2019