BENGALURU : Worm or soil-transmitted helminth (STH) infections affect more than a billion people worldwide, with the poorest regions of the world bearing the burden of this infection. To address this crisis, countries across the globe including India have adopted a mass deworming strategy in which anthelminthic drugs are administered to children above two years of age and other high-risk groups periodically. Given the seriousness of the issue, a mass approach is adopted over a screen-and-treat approach to handle the infection. The idea is to ensure that there is no morbidity at the population level and no transmission of the disease on a community scale.
India affected the worst
As per WHO, India is the worst-affected country in the world suffering from worm infections with children being the largest affected group. To counter the widespread nature of the infection, the government declared February 10 every year as the National Deworming Day (NDD) with the objective of deworming children above two years to improve their health, nutritional status, access to education and quality of life. The NDD is one of the largest single-day public health initiatives in India. Apart from the central government, the NDD also witnesses state government’s participation in tackling the problem and the Karnataka government, too has taken initiative to deworm children.
Take up deworming in childhood
It is advisable to undertake periodic deworming during childhood as worm infections can cause havoc in the health of children. The infection causes problems like anaemia, severe abdominal pain, abdominal distention and diarrhoea. In addition, it also causes loss of appetite, impair mental and physical health, malnourishment and tissue damage, which may necessitate corrective surgery.
Apart from these problems, it has been observed that infected children are unable to concentrate well on studies which puts their education and productivity at risk. Children miss out on school days and absenteeism becomes a major issue. Catching up with studies would also be difficult, while good health ensures regular attendance and educational enrichment.
For these reasons, parents have to keep in touch with doctors periodically and ensure that their children are treated at least twice a year for deworming, though some recommend that children take preventive medication four times a year. This depends on the strategy that a doctor adopts to treat the children. By deworming your children early, the overall spread of the infection in the community can be prevented.
Transmission of infection
Worm infections or STH are among the most common infections and transmit easily. They are present in the human intestines and consume nutrients meant for the human body. The infections produce eggs in thousands each day and spread by unclean practices mentioned. A few can enter directly through the skin and travel to various parts of the body, causing complications during the process of migration before settling in some vital organs, including brain.
The eggs contaminate the soil and spread infection in several ways - ingested through vegetables that are not carefully washed, peeled and cooked, ingested from contaminated water sources and ingested by children who play in soil and then put their hands in their mouths without washing them. Since worm infection can transmit in multiple ways, it is important that it be nipped in the bud.
Benefits of deworming
Deworming at an early age has many benefits. Most importantly, it improves the child’s immunity and he or she would no longer be vulnerable to chronic illnesses and ailments caused by worms. Deworming improves the nutritional profile of your child and helps avoid problems like anaemia and loose bowels. It contains spread of the infection in the community, thus avoiding an epidemic.
Dr. Parimala V Thirumalesh, Lead and Senior Consultant, Paediatrics and Neonatology, Aster CMI Hospital
Prevention and treatment of infection
The following set of measures and practices, other than distributing deworming tablets should be followed:
■ Never use open defecation, always use toilet for defecation
■ Wash hands properly using soap and water before eating food and after using the toilet
■ Trim nails to keep them short and clean; keep the surrounding areas neat and clean
■ Wear shoes or slippers, especially while using toilet
■ Drink clean water and safe food
■ Avoid keeping food uncovered
■ Never eat fruits and raw vegetables without washing them with clean water
The prevention and treatment of the infection should not be taken lightly as the damage suffered as one grows up is severe. Children are our treasure and the future of the country. Therefore, it is wise to consult a doctor very early when one has recognised the symptoms in order to prevent its spread. The human and financial cost incurred in treating the infection late in life is too much to bear and it is our beholden duty to ensure all precautions are taken before it is too late. Worm infections are entirely preventable and treatable.