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What is Trichuriasis?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Trichuriasis is an infection that occurs when an individual ingests soil that contains the ringworm parasite Trichocephalus trichiuris, also known as the human whipworm. When whipworms or their eggs are ingested, they attach to the lining of the large intestine and can lead to bloody diarrhea, incontinence, fatigue, and anemia. Trichuriasis mainly affects children under the age of 12 whose immune systems are not yet fully developed or equipped to combat parasitic infections. Whipworms thrive in many different places, though they are most commonly found in tropical or humid climates and in areas with insufficient sanitation facilities.

Children contract trichuriasis primarily by swallowing soil that is contaminated with human or animal feces. There can be several thousand whipworm eggs in a single handful of contaminated soil. Small children might consume the eggs by purposefully eating the soil or placing dirty hands in their mouth. It is also possible to ingest eggs by eating unwashed fruits and vegetables that grew in contaminated areas.

Whipworm eggs are ingested and deposited in the small intestine, where they hatch, mature, and make their way to the large intestine. Larvae and developed whipworms attach themselves to intestinal walls and begin robbing the body of fluids, depleting nutrient levels, and damaging the colon. As a result, many children experience frequent episodes of bloody diarrhea, incontinence, and rectal prolapse, a condition where the rectal lining protrudes from the anus. It is common for children to develop iron-deficiency anemia and dehydration symptoms when large amounts of blood and fluids are expelled.

A child or parent who notices symptoms of trichuriasis should consult a primary care physician immediately, who can make an accurate diagnosis and administer treatment. A doctor will usually collect a stool sample and order a laboratory test known as a stool ova and parasites exam to check for the presence of whipworms. If trichuriasis is discovered, a doctor will usually prescribe a drug known as mebendazole to combat the infection and kill whipworms. Mebendazole is usually administered orally, twice a day for up to three days or until symptoms disappear.

With immediate treatment, most children are able to make full recoveries with no long-term health problems. A doctor may conduct several follow-up examinations to ensure that all of the parasites have been removed from a child's system and that blood and fluid levels have returned to normal. Physicians and medical professionals strongly suggest that children in tropical and humid clients wash their hands regularly and avoid eating unwashed vegetables and fruit to prevent future trichuriasis infections.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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