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Helminths and Anemia ~ Keerthi Padmanabhan

When you hear the word "worm," you generally picture a squirming creature in your backyard! However, if you were to look at the soil/water in some parts of developing countries with a microscope, you would be able to see many helminths, or parasitic worms, which can cause several health consequences to humans (including anemia).

According to the WHO, 1.5 billion people are affected by helminth infections (infections caused by parasitic worms) in the world, and generally the people who are affected live in underdeveloped countries where access to advanced medical treatment is unavailable and infeasible. These areas include South East Asia and Africa, where sanitation efforts are poor and soil is contaminated with human feces.

Many of these parasites often lead to the development of anemia. Helminths such as hookworms, schistosomes, and whipworms often cause the host (human) to lose large quantities of blood and nutrients, and they lead to the destruction of red blood cells. This ultimately can cause iron deficiency anemia. Most of those who are affected are school age children, where the lack of iron in their bloodstream can cause cognitive damage as well as lowered energy levels.

Information about these specific worms are provided below:

Hookworm (Ancylostoma duodenale): Hookworms are often found in contaminated soil and many pets such as cats and dogs can also become infected with hookworms. When one is infected with a hookworm (in the infective larval stage), he/she generally suffers from rashes, abdominal pain, diarrhea, in addition to other symptoms. Hookworms can cause intestinal capillary blood loss as a result of L4 and adult stage worm feeding behaviors. As a result, many who are infected with hookworms suffer from protein/ energy malnutrition in addition to iron deficiency anemia.

(Photo From Wikipedia)

Blood Fluke (Schistosoma haematobium): The S in Schistosoma is for Snail! Schistosoma are another type of helminth that is carried by snails. Humans are generally infected with this parasite when they swim through water that is contaminated. Some of the symptoms after getting infected with Schistosoma are coughs, muscle and joint pains, and fever.

(Photo From Science Direct)

Whipworm (Trichuris trichiura): Humans can become infected with whipworms by ingesting eggs and contaminated dirt. Whipworms invade the cecum and ascending colon, which can lead to severe symptoms. These symptoms include abdominal pain as well as a loss of appetite.

(Photo From Pet Domestic)


For those infected with hookworms and schistosomes, the current drug treatment is albendazole and praziquantel, and these drugs have been found to increase hemoglobin in the bloodstream. Currently, the WHO recommends albendazole, mebendazole, pyrantel, and levamisole to treat helminth infections, but these drugs cannot be administered to all age groups and in some cases, pregnant women too.

We can look forward to finding cures to neglected tropical diseases caused by helminths in the near future and eliminate anemia along the way.


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