Ascariasis is an infection caused by a species of earthworm known as Ascaris lumbricoides. This parasite enters in your small intestine and grows upto 12 inches and more and absorbs all your body nutrients. Ascariasis is very common in children living in poor regions like tropical and subtropical regions and very rare in the USA. Ascariasis is difficult to diagnose because it shows less symptoms or sometimes doesn’t show symptoms. But if you have ascariasis then proper treatment and medication will help to recover sooner and prevent you from many harmful health problems.
- Take notice of respiratory symptoms: Most of the people suffering from ascariasis don’t have significant signs while people with weaker immune systems will show symptoms. The initial signs and symptoms of ascariasis are bronchial asthma or pneumonia, chronic cough, shortness of breath, wheezing and moderate chest pain. You may have a mucus cough (sputum) and spot blood in the mucus. These lung signs and symptoms are associated with the Ascaris’s life cycle. If you ingest eggs of ascaris lumbricoides, it grows in your stomach, enters your bloodstream and from the blood it enters your lungs and causes infection and allergies. After one week, it gets up from the lungs to the trachea and then it is swallowed down from oesophagus to stomach, and from there it enters in your small intestine.
- Awareness of abdominal pain and nausea: The Ascaris moves from the lungs and enters in the small intestine, where they grow into adult ascaris in a few weeks and live there until they die. It may take many months or some years to die. The ascaris don’t always show signs and symptoms in the small intestine, but if many ascaris are present in the small intestine then the initial sign and symptom is abdominal pain and moderate nausea. Ascaris block the passage of the small intestine and bile duct and cause abdominal pain. In mild infection, nausea is changed into vomiting.
- Watch for bloody diarrhea: If the immune system of the body is weak and can’t fight with ascariasis then it is likely to cause harmful and irritating symptoms like abdominal pain and diarrhea. If diarrhea gets severe then ascaris would damage your intestinal wall and cause blood in your stool. If the color of your blood is dark red, it means that ascaris has damaged your intestinal wall while if the color is cherry red, then it means your rectum is damaged. With the blood, ascaris is also seen in your stool.
- Chronic vomiting and weight loss: In severe Ascariasis, ascaris blocks the passage of the small intestine which in turn causes severe abdominal pain, nausea and sometimes vomiting. If vomiting continues for a few days and gets chronic, it will lead to rapid weight loss. Loss of appetite and improper digestion is also a symptom. Weight loss is seen in your thighs, necks, shoulders etc while the abdomen is still heavy because of ascaris blockage and fluid accumulation. Ascaris is also seen in vomit in severe ascariasis.
2. Preventing Ascariasis:
- Avoid contact with contaminated soil: Ascaris are present in soil that contain human and animal feces. In lots of poor countries like African countries, fecal count is deliberately used to fertilize plants and crops. You should be very careful when you visit these undeveloped and poor countries. Ascaris infection is very common in children living in these undeveloped and poor regions because they play and work in these contaminated soil. Through this ascaris enter in their body and cause infection. Eating the vegetables and fruits grown in contaminated soil or irrigated with wastewater causes ascariasis infection. Make sure to properly clean and wash vegetables and fruits before eating them. Soak vegetables and fruits in fresh water to remove harmful and toxic chemicals and kill bacteria and viruses from fruits and vegetables.
- Practice good hygiene: Take good care of your hygiene and use the products that will help to prevent ascariasis. Ascaris can easily enter into your body from your hands. So, make sure to always clean your hands. Wash your hands after going to the washroom and before eating. Ascaris and his eggs spread through faces. Wash your hands before and after buying food in undeveloped and poor countries. Keep hand sanitizer with you to clean your hands if you don’t have water. If you don’t have water and sanitizer then you can also use fresh citrus fruit juice to wash your hands.
- Avoid traveling to developing countries: Underdeveloped and poor countries have a high risk of ascariasis infection in people. If you want to save yourself from ascariasis then avoid visiting underdeveloped and poor countries such as rural China, Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, India, Latin America, the Caribbean and parts of the Middle East. If you need to go to these countries then you have to follow safety precautions such as wash your hands, don’t put your hands into your mouth, use sanitizer and don’t go in contaminated soil.
3. Treating Ascariasis:
- Wait and see: In most of the cases, symptoms of ascariasis are not obvious and it would heal naturally in a few weeks. If you have a strong immunity, then the immune system will kill Ascaris worms easily without taking any medicine or treatment. Good nutrition and clean water is very important to prevent ascariasis infection. Doctor will take your stool’s sample to check ascaris eggs for diagnosis of ascariasis. Adults are more likely to fight and heal Ascariasis rapidly than children. If your children are losing weight rapidly then you should consult the doctor for treatment.
- Take anti-parasitic medication: Antiparasitic and anthelmintic medicines are used to treat ascariasis and other parasitic infections. If you have ascariasis then the doctor will prescribe you anti parasitic medicines such as albendazole (Albenza), ivermectin (Stromectol) and mebendazole to kill Ascaris worms. Take these medicines for one to two days to treat ascariasis infection. Albendazole 400 mg and mebendazole 500 mg is suitable for treating Ascariasis. But don’t take these medicines if you are pregnant while pyrantel pamoate is used during pregnancy. These medications do not have any kind of side effects.
- Consider surgery as a last resort: If you are still suffering from Ascariasis and medicines are not effective to treat it then surgery is the last option to treat severe Ascariasis and other harmful intestinal infections. In surgery, ascaris is removed from the small intestine and heals the damages done by it. Surgery is done due to intestinal blockage (obstruction) or perforation, bile duct blockage, pancreatitis, and appendicitis. Doctor will take an X-ray of the abdomen and chest, ultrasound, MRI and CT scan before surgery to determine the problem. Surgery is done with an endoscope. A cutting blade and camera are inserted through a tube into your trachea towards anus to kill Ascaris worms in the small intestine.