What is Helminth infection?

Derived from the Greek word “helmins,” meaning “worm,” Helminth is a broad categorical term referring to various types of parasitic worms that reside in the body. Parasites get their nourishment from their hosts, causing disease and sickness while continuing to feed off of their environment. Unlike parasites like lice and fleas that live outside their host, Helminths are classified as eukaryotic parasites because they live inside the body.

Many helminth infections occur in poverty-stricken and developing countries with warm, moist environments and poor sanitary conditions. Helminths can live in humans and animals and are usually transmitted through contaminated food or water, feces, and unwashed hands or contact with a contaminated object. Helminth infections normally found in livestock can be transferred from animal to man through a process called zoonoses and can then cause increased prevalence among humans. Although few helminth infections lead to death, most of them do cause severe physical impairment.

Helmints live in the intestinal tract, where digestive enzymes dissolve the egg shells and release the worms. They begin to reproduce and create more eggs which eventually hatch and continue the cycle. Although digestive enzymes dissolve the egg shells, they do not harm the adult worms, which are protected by a layer of keratin on the outside of their bodies. Helminths have a multicellular body structure with complete organ systems, which allow certain medicines inhibit these bodily processes, in turn killing the worm and preventing reproduction.

Although helminth infections can affect anyone, children in developing nations are most at risk for helminth infections. The World Health Organization reports a 35 percent infection rate for roundworm, which is a common parasitic worm. These continued exposures to helminth infections greatly reduce time in school due to increased malnutrition and anemia. The presence of these worms in the body challenges the immune system and forces it to worker harder than normal to protect the body from toxins released by the parasites. These toxins are released into the bloodstream after the worm feeds, and can cause increased risk for common viruses and infections.

Although worms can cause serious infection, some scientists are studying the use of helminthes to eliminate and treat irritable bowel diseases. Still, the eradication of helminths in developing countries, especially in children, remains a significant task for organizations around the world.