Infestation with worms (helminthiasis) is a global problem, obviously more in the developing countries.
Round worm infestation is the most common helminthic infestation, with an estimated worldwide prevalence of 25% (0.8-1.22 billion people). Usually with no symptoms, these infections are most prevalent in children of tropical and developing countries, where they are perpetuated by contamination of soil by human feces or use of untreated feces as fertilizer.
Symptomatic infections may manifest in a variety of bizarre ways such as:
1. Blockage of the intestines: This manifests as abdominal pain, which waxes and wanes, abdominal swelling, feeling of unwellness, vomiting, intermittent passage of loose watery stool or inability to pass stool or gas.
2. Perforation of the intestines: Honestly, this is quite rare but when it does occur, it is always fatal without intervention. It often follows features of intestinal blockage but suddenly the pain becomes more intense and constant, associated with features of internal bleeding. Really nasty situation!
3. Pneumonia (I know you think I’m crazy but I’m not): Yes, worms could cause injury to the lungs (actually called a pneumonitis named after a fellow — Loeffler). The affected person complains of cough, breathlessness, noisy breathing (wheezing), chest pain and coughing up blood. This occurs during the early migration of the immature form of the worms through the lungs. Yuck!
4. Sore throat: During that initial migration, the busy body worms first get to your stomach and then decide that they want to go on a missionary journey from the stomach to the lungs. It’s during this road trip up the gullet that they irritate the throat and voila!
5. Low blood level: Believe it or not, a persons blood level could fall so low that they need to be hospitalised and it could either be due to the effects of the worm infection, sucking up of nutrients meant for blood production like the fish tapeworm or directly due to the blood sucking worms. Yup, there are worms which bring teeth and plates to the party for the sole purpose of sucking your blood (not mine). Once they get their hooks into you, they don’t let go. Small wonder these vampires are called hookworms.
6. Obstruction of the flow of bile: These worms just won’t sit still. They could migrate into the tube/duct, which allows bile to enter into the intestine and block it. This causes the bile passages to become swollen and infected. Complaints include fever with chills and shakes, yellowish eye discoloration and pain in the right upper part of the abdomen. Severe cases develop mental confusion and go into shock (severely low blood pressure) and require emergency drainage of the bile…all because a few worms or one big one couldn’t afford Google maps. So sad.
PS: The cysts of pig tapeworms could get to your brain and affect normal brain function causing convulsions and may even make you unable to understand a fragment of this wonderful piece. Now that would be terribly sad, wouldn’t it.