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- Cleveland Clinic: Parasitic Roundworm Diseases
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Parasites-Hookworms
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Worms that look like human hair are nematodes. These worms are considered a parasite since most require a host for survival and in some cases, humans become hosts. Nematodes are the most numerous multi-cellular animals on Earth, according to the University of Nebraska 3. Hookworms and roundworms are the hair-like parasitic worms that infect humans.
There are more than 5,000 species in the phylum nematoda family, according to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural. Worms that live in the soil are beneficial to the agricultural industry, but worms that infect humans compete for your nutrients and cause:
- severe discomfort ranging from anal itching
- abdominal pain
Hookworms live in contaminated soils and can penetrate the skin of humans. Roundworms infect humans by hand-to-mouth transmission.
The large numbers of worms in the nematode family make it nearly impossible to identify each species. If you pick up a handful of soil, you will be holding thousands of worms although you can’t see them because of their microscopic size. Not all nematodes are microscopic. Nematodes can range from .01 inches to more than 24 feet, according to the University of Nebraska at Lincoln 3. Their anatomy looks like a skinny tube inside a tube. Hookworm hosts on humans with its six sharp teeth and roundworms look similar to earth worms.
There are 576 to 740 million people in the world infected with hookworms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2. If the hookworms are found in large numbers in the human body, they can block the lymphatic system causing life-threatening edema. Hookworms enter through the skin, usually the feet, and move through the veins to the heart and lungs. Then the hookworms ascend to the pharynx where it is swallowed and enters the digestive system, where it grows in the small intestines. If you have a light infestation of hookworms, there are usually no symptoms. However, a heavy infestation can cause abdominal pain, appetite loss, weight loss and anemia. Hookworms are treated with anthelminthic medications, such as albendazole and mebendazole. Treatment typically lasts one to three days.
Roundworms can affect anyone regardless of economic or social status. Pinworms are the most common parasitic roundworm infection in the United States, affecting about one-third of children in some areas, according to Cleveland Clinic 1. Roundworms enter the body by being swallowed. The female worms deposits eggs in the anus before leaving the body. This causes itching, and when the person scratches the anus and then places his fingers in his mouth, the cycle of roundworms begins. This infection is easily spread in day care facilities, so sanitation and personal hygiene is the key for prevention. If you have infected children in your household, be sure to wash their clothes and bedding daily to prevent others in your house from getting infected. Creams may be prescribed to relieve anal itching. Medbendazole and pyrantel pamoate are medicines given for roundworm infections.
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