Soil-Transmitted Helminthiasis: Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Dan Washmuth

Dan has taught college Nutrition, Anatomy, Physiology, and Sports Nutrition courses and has a master's degree in Dietetics & Nutrition.

Soil-transmitted helminthiasis is a type of infection caused by a worm and transmitted through contaminated soil. This lesson will provide the reader with information on the definition, symptoms, and treatment of this condition.

Intestinal Worms

Aluna is a 14-year-old girl who lives in Kenya. Aluna is very active and is often found playing and running throughout the fields near her village. Unfortunately, the village Aluna lives in is very poor and does not have proper plumbing or sewage removal.

Recently, Aluna started to feel quite ill and began suffering from nausea, vomiting, and extreme fatigue. She has also become very confused. Worried about these symptoms, Aluna's mother takes her to the hospital, which is located several miles away from their village. At the hospital, doctors put Aluna through several tests to see what is causing her illness. After reviewing the test results, a doctor informs Aluna and her mother that she is suffering from soil-transmitted helminthiasis.

What Is Soil-Transmitted Helminthiasis?

Soil-transmitted helminthiasis is a type of infection caused by an intestinal worm (helminth is a term that means 'parasitic worm') and transmitted through contaminated soil. The specific types of worms that can cause this infection include:

  • Hookworms
  • Whipworms
  • Roundworms

These worms live in the intestines of the people they infect. While in the intestines, they will lay thousands of eggs each day. These eggs end up in a person's feces. When a person defecates on the ground (which often occurs in very poor areas that do not have proper plumbing, such as Aluna's village), these eggs will then contaminate the soil.

This is a picture of the intestines of a person infected with a hookworm.

Soil-transmitted helminthiasis is transmitted when a person accidentally consumes the soil that is contaminated with the eggs of whipworms and roundworms. For example, a person may get this soil on their hands and then use their hands to eat without washing them first. Additionally, a person may become infected by eating contaminated fruits and vegetables that haven't been properly washed or peeled. Once the eggs are consumed, they will hatch inside the person's intestines and develop into adult worms.

Conversely, the eggs of hookworms do not cause infection via ingestion. Rather, hookworm larvae get inside the body by crawling through a person's skin. Hookworm infection often occurs when people walk on contaminated soil with bare feet.

Soil-transmitted helminthiasis is a very prevalent disease, infecting over 1.5 billion people worldwide, which is almost one-fourth of the world's population. The majority of infections occur in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa, China, East Asia, and the Americas, where sanitation is lacking.


People who are infected with only a small number of these worms will often show no symptoms at all. However, soil-transmitted helminthiasis that involves a large number of worms can cause the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Malnutrition

It should be noted that children who are infected with soil-transmitted helminthiasis may suffer from impaired physical and cognitive development.

Common symptoms of soil-transmitted helminthiasis include stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting.
abdominal pain


Soil-transmitted helminthiasis can be treated through the administration of certain medications, including albendazole and mebendazole, which are designed to kill parasitic worms that infect a person's body. Even more important than treatment is prevention, which includes simple, basic personal hygiene and sanitation practices. For example, handwashing and creating a common place to use the restroom that is far away from food and water supplies can help to reduce the transmission of this disease.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account