If you have a toddler who loves the outdoors like I do you’re sure to worry that your child might have worms thriving in her body. Many vague symptoms are attributed to worm infestations like alteration in the child’s bowel habits (smelly stools, crampy stomachaches, passing gas to vomiting and diarrhea), a change in appetite (to both extremes), headaches, disturbed sleep and generally feeling unwell. Physicians suspect infestations if they note itching, rashes, anemia and frequent urinary infections.
According to the World Health Organization, India is a high-endemic zone for Worm Infestation where the prevalence in certain areas is as high as 70 % of children in the school-going age.
So what are these parasites all about and what can we do about them?
A parasite is a being that survives by hijacking another organism, robbing it of nutrients and thanking it by leaving behind polluting, infecting waste. Intestinal parasites are usually minute single celled creatures called protozoa or worms (otherwise called helminthes) that get into your child’s body and use the intestine as shelter. Being prolific little creatures they release tens of thousands of eggs at a time and it’s the eggs or the freshly hatched larvae that we inadvertently pick up as we walk barefoot or garden in infected soil.
The worms rob the body of food or prevent it from being absorbed properly once it has been eaten. Heavy infections can even obstruct the intestine. Some can contribute to anemia by causing intestinal bleeding and thus loss of blood. Prolonged or repeated infections may make a child stunted and underweight. It has also been claimed that long-term presence of parasites may contribute to the development of food allergies.
Giardiasis is a disease the child can catch if she drinks from a contaminated water source. Giardia are parasites found in rivers, streams, and lakes, or municipal water supplies, swimming pools, and spas. The infection can also be passed on through infected food or person-to-person contact.
People with amoebiasis parasites can pass on the infection if they do not wash their hands properly after going to the toilet. Contaminated hands can also spread the parasites to food which may be eaten by other people. There is definitely more risk for those of us who enjoy eating out.
Pinworms are tiny, white, thread-like worms that live in the lower intestine. At night, the worm crawls out of buttocks and lays eggs in nearby skin. This causes a terrible itch and disturbs sleep. The child scratches her bottom, the eggs get caught under her fingernails, and inevitably end up in her intestines via her mouth. And so the cycle of worm production continues. Eggs from an infected person can stick to toys, toilet seats, clothes, or bedding as well.