Ascariasis is an infection with an intestinal worm. It occurs around the world. It happens more often in tropical climates.
Ascaris lumbricoides is a nematode (round worm) parasite. It can reach up to 40 cm in length. Their eggs hatch in the stomach and travel to the heart and lungs. This causes a type of pneumonia. They travel to the throat where they are swallowed. They enter the stomach again and develop into adult worms. The eggs they lay (240,000 per worm per day) pass out with bowel movements. The cycle begins again when contaminated food or water is eaten.
Ascariasis is caused by swallowing food or water that is contaminated by feces containing eggs.
Risk factors that increase your chances of developing ascariasis include:
- Preschool age or younger
- Travel to developing countries
- Living in southern states of the US
- Eating unsanitary food
- Drinking unclean water
If you have any of these symptoms do not assume it is from ascariasis. These symptoms may be caused by other health conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your doctor.
- Dry cough and fever
- Abdominal cramps
- Poor nutrition, especially in children
- Passing a worm either by mouth, nose, or rectum
- Diseases caused by the Ascaris worm
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and your travel and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may be referred to a gastroenterologist or a specialist in tropical diseases. Tests may include the following:
- Blood and urine tests
- Stool specimens to search for worm eggs
- Intestinal x-rays or ultrasound imaging
It is common to have more than one intestinal parasite. You may need to be treated for several. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:
- Drugs—Mebendazole, albendazole, and pyrantel pamoate.
- Endoscopy or surgery—You may need a procedure if you have intestinal obstruction from a large number of worms.
Take these steps to reduce your chances of getting ascariasis:
- Avoid foods prepared without proper sanitation, such as unwashed hands.
- Avoid water and other drinks that may be from contaminated sources.
- Peel, cook, or wash vegetables if they may have been fertilized with human excrement.
- Wash hands when leaving the bathroom.
- Reviewer: Daus Mahnke, MD
- Review Date: 11/2012 -
- Update Date: 11/08/2012 -