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Whipworms: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment


Whipworm, Trichuris trichiura, is an intestinal parasite that can affect humans. It is a species of nematode.

Whipworms can live in a human and cause no symptoms at all for quite some time. The likelihood of symptoms increases with the number of worms in the intestines.

Symptoms may include: diarrhea, bloating, flatulence, constipation, anemia, abdominal pain or growth retardation in children.

Whipworms get into the intestines when a human ingests an embryonated egg. For an egg to become embryonated, it must first pass through the digestive system. In soil the unembryonated egg undergoes three stages: a two cell stage, advanced cleavage and finally the eggs are embryonated.

Embryonated eggs are then ingested by humans either through fruits or vegetables that have come into contact with infected soil or through contact with infected soil. For example, you could catch whipworm if you ate a sandwich made by someone who was infected that didn’t properly wash their hands after they had a bowel movement. Even if they washed their hands, the eggs are so small that they could possibly miss them.

Children are more likely than adults to get whipworm for a couple of reasons. They are more likely to have poorer hand washing and toileting hygiene skills. They are also more likely to play in soil that is infected, then put their hands in their mouths without properly washing them.

Whipworms are very contagious, so often if one family member has them the entire family may get them. Some doctors treat the whole family at once just in case it has spread, even if no symptoms or worms are present. This eliminates the possibility of one family member getting rid of whipworm just as another gets it and then continuously re-infecting other family members.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Mebendazole is the drug of choice, with albendazole as an alternative.” Mebendazole is an antihelmintic drug, which means anti-worm. It causes the microtubules not to form. Microtubules are a crucial element of the whipworm’s cytoskeleton. It also depletes the worms’ glucose, which is their energy source. Together, these actions cause the worms to die.

Dead whipworms will pass out of the body with feces. Adult worms range from roughly 1 to 1 ¾ inches in length. They are very thin and are a pale, whitish color. Live whipworms can also pass with feces, which may be the only indication a person has of infection.

Treatment is necessary because whipworms live, on average, a year. Females can lay 3,000 to 20,000 eggs a day. With that many eggs passing through a person’s feces, it is easy to see how a child who doesn’t wash properly could touch food or other family members and spread it to them. The eggs can also be ingested by biting fingernails, if eggs happen to be present.

Whipworm is one of the most common human parasites. Industrialized countries have very low incidences compared to countries with large rural regions.

While whipworms are rarely life threatening, they can cause physical pain and discomfort. They can also bring embarrassment or stigma, as many people believe they are a sign of uncleanliness or an unsanitary living situation. The reality is that you could get infected from eating a piece of fruit or a vegetable that was grown in infected soil or from touching infected soil, neither of which are signs of unsanitary living.

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Treatment should be sought even if you are embarrassed to discuss the condition. Doctors see all sorts of conditions, including icky parasites, and they are clinical and professional when treating these conditions.

Trichuriasis, http://www.dpd.cdc.gov/dpdx/HTML/Trichuriasis.htm
Whipworm, http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1000631-overview