Worms - Causes, Diagnostic and Treatment

Parasitic roundworms and tapeworms that infest humans come from unsanitary living conditions and poor food preparation. They range in size from half-inch pinworms to tape-worms more than 30 feet long. Of the round-worms, pinworms and ascarids (the worms that cause ascariasis) are the most common parasites affecting children in the United States. Trichinosis is a disease caused by a microscopic round-worm; if not treated, the worm larvae can cause muscle damage and cardiac or neurological complications. Hookworms are roundworms that live on blood, glucose, and oxygen they suck from the intestinal wall, often causing anemia. Like hook-worms, threadworms can spread to the lungs and cause chronic coughing; both types often infest people sharing living quarters, as in prisons or mental institutions.

The several types of tapeworms that infest humans are generally not harmful unless they penetrate the intestinal wall and move to another part of the body. Any worm infestation can lead to respiratory or cardiovascular complications, but most are easily treated and cause no lasting harm.

Causes

Most roundworms share a similar life cycle inside the body, but their methods of infestation differ. Pinworms live in people's lower intestinal tracts. The female worm leaves the anus to deposit eggs in the anal area at night. This produces an irritating itch that-when scratched-transfers the eggs to the host's fingers; the eggs can thus spread by touch through an entire household. If inadvertently eaten, the eggs hatch in the intestines and the cycle continues. The roundworm that causes ascariasis can enter the body in unwashed or raw food contarninated with the worm's eggs; it may also be picked up from soil that contains the eggs. Hookworms and thread-worms enter the body in contaminated drinking water or through bare feet. The larvae migrate to the small intestine, where they may live for several years, taking nutrients from the intestinal walls. Their eggs are excreted in feces; if the infested feces contaminate soil, the cycle is repeated. Yocan contract the roundworm that causes trichinosis by eating raw or undercooked pork or game, which may contain living worm larvae en-cased in cysts. After digestive juices dissolve the cysts, the larvae circulate through the blood and the lymphatic system before digging into muscle and forming a cyst with new larvae.

Tapeworms also enter the body in raw or undercooked beef, fish, or pork. In rare cases, children may swallow tapeworm-infested fleas or lice that live on vermin or household pets.

Diagnostic and Test Procedures

A physician may diagnose pinworms by using a piece of sticky tape to pick up any eggs that may be around the anal area; the tape is then checked under a microscope. The worm itself is sometimes visible in stool samples or around the anus. Round-worms, hookworms, threadworms, and tape-worms can be diagnosed from stool samples as well, and sometimes tapeworm segments are found in bedding or clothes. To diagnose trichinosis, a physician will test samples of blood or muscle tissue.

Treatment

Conventional Medicine

Most worms respond to medicines specific to the type of worm. Hookworms and threadworms are treated with pyrantel or mebendazole. Doctors usually treat pinworms with three oral doses of mebendazole, two weeks apart. Since the eggs can spread, everyone in the household must be treat-ed. Washing all bed linens and clothing is essential to eradicate all pinworm eggs. Yocan relieve itching in the anal area with petroleum jelly.

Most cases of trichinosis are mild and do not need medication; if symptoms are severe, the medicine of choice is mebendazole. Trichinosis that spreads to the respiratory, cardiovascular, or central nervous system is rare and is treated with corticosteroids to fight inflammation.

After yohave completed a course of treatment, have your doctor repeat the diagnostic tests to make sure the worms are gone. If not, another course of treatment may be necessary. Tapeworms may not clear your system for up to five months.

Alternative Choices

Once yohave seen a doctor for an accurate diagnosis, alternative treatments can be used to flush worms from your system.

Herbal Therapies

Check with a licensed herbalist about using these herbs, since they can be toxic:

Nutrition and Diet

Pineapple, papaya juice, and pumpkin seeds are all said to be tough on worms.

Try over-the-counter grapefruit-seed extract to flush worms out of your intestines; follow dosage directions on the label.

Prevention

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