Ascaris Lumbricoides: Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Ascariasis is an infection caused by the parasitic roundworms Ascaris lumbricoides. Read this lesson to learn what the symptoms of an infection are and how it can be treated.

What Is Ascariasis?

Ascariasis is an infection in humans caused by parasitic roundworms called Ascaris lumbricoides. This infection is relatively common - the World Health Organization estimates that approximately 1 billion people suffer from Ascariasis worldwide. That's about 1 infection in every 7 people!

Humans become infected by ingesting eggs through consumption of contaminated food or water. Infections are more commonly found in areas with poor sanitation, especially in tropical and sub-tropical environments.

A fertilized Ascaris lumbricoides egg
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Once eggs are ingested, they hatch in the small intestines then larvae move into the bloodstream and relocate to the lungs, where they stay until they fully mature. Once they reach maturity, they are coughed up and swallowed, where they return to the stomach and small intestines and lay eggs. Some eggs are then excreted in feces and some continue the life cycle within the host, repeating the process.

An adult Ascaris lumbricoides worm
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Symptoms of Ascariasis

Once a person is infected, they don't always display symptoms! When symptoms are present, they vary based on the life stage of the worms and the intensity of the infection.

  • When the worms are in the lungs, they may cause coughing, gagging, difficulty breathing, wheezing, or vomit with visible worms.
  • When the worms are in the intestines, they may cause nausea, vomiting, irregular bowel movements, stomach pain, weight loss or malnutrition, or visible worms in vomit or stool.
  • Other possible symptoms include fatigue, fever, bowel blockages, pancreatitis, and inflammation. Worms may accumulate in other parts of the body, causing problems based on their location.

Treating Ascariasis

Since none of these symptoms sound like they'd be fun to experience, we'll look at how Ascariasis is treated. Some minor cases will go away on their own, while others require an anti-parasitic medication. Examples include albendazole, ivermectin, and mebendazole, and these usually clear infections within 1-3 days of treatment. Possible side effects from this treatment include abdominal pain and diarrhea, but most people will fully recover from a minor infection after they are treated.

More serious cases may require surgery to treat. If there are a lot of worms, surgery can be used to remove them from the body or to repair any damage that was done.

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