One of the most infamous scenes in cinema history from the 1979 horror movie Alien when one of the main characters complains of chest pains before a slimy, insectoid creature bursts out of his rib cage. We all shivered, contemplating the terror of having something so disgusting growing inside of your body. However, for many of us, creatures crawling around inside of our bodies are no longer a science-fiction nightmare, but are a real-life threat. Many are just as terrifying: a six-foot animal burrowing out of your foot, a larvae biting onto and gnawing up your leg, your intestines stuffed to the bursting with wriggling grey worms. These conditions are all frightfully real, and are classified under Helminths.
Helminths are one of the most common pathogens known to man. Chances are you have probably had a worm of some kind in your body, even if you didn’t know it. Currently, almost a quarter of the human population have an infection of Helminths currently. However, the most at-risk for these worm infections are school children and infants in impoverished areas, with little access to clean play-areas and proper footwear.
The causative agent of Helminths is the worm itself, be it Ascariasis, Whipworm, and Hookworm. These three roundworms affect approximately 2,600 million people worldwide. The scientific names of these three worms are Ascaris lumbricoides, Trichuris trichiura, and Ancylostoma duodenale. These three worms constitute a large portion of the worm infections in both humans and other mammals, and are found all over the world in mostly Tropical and Subtropical areas, such as Africa, the Americas, China, and East Asia. They are transmitted through eggs present in human feces, which contaminate the soil surrounding outdoor toilets and places with poor public sanitation. Worms are also caught by eating food that has not been properly prepared after being placed on the ground, and worm eggs can stay on these items if they are not properly sanitized. The worms can either lay eggs or larvae in the soil, making each infection different.
Humans are infected by Helminths through internal damage. Worms may breed inside of the intestines of a human, causing a competition for resources, internal bleeding, and possibly arteries clogged with worms. This affects populations by creating a situation where the community affected has to deal with clearing their systems as well as dealing with the fallout from the effects of decreased work potential. In terms of treatments, these disease can all be cured by taking Albendazole, Mebendazole or another Anti-parasite medicines. However, frequent de-worming, health education, and improved sanitation are effective in stopping the spread to new hosts.
Worms are not contagious from skin-to-skin or via cough – instead, they are uptaken through feces and burrow up through the feet in order to infect their victims. Because of this, Helminths flourish in areas of low sanitation and poor health. Places where children are allowed outside barefoot, do not have proper waste disposal, and where handwashing is not taught often have a problem with Helminths. Infected children are usually mentally, physically, and nutritionally impaired. The true danger of Helminths comes in the impairments that are placed onto the children they infect.