What are roundworms?

Roundworms are parasites that live in your intestine. A parasite is a creature that lives in or on another creature in order to survive. They have long round bodies and range in size. Roundworms can live in or on humans, and can cause many problems. They are usually found in soil and stool and can enter the body through the mouth or direct contact with the skin. They can live in the human intestine for a very long time. There are several types of roundworms and they can all be quite harmful.

Who gets roundworms?

Anyone can get roundworms. Poverty-stricken individuals living in under developed areas of the world are most susceptible to roundworms. School-aged children and people who are institutionalized are also susceptible. Poor-hygiene practices are a big contributing factor to contracting roundworms. Roundworms grow best in warm to hot climates, so people in these climates need to be extra aware of the symptoms of roundworms.

What are the different types of roundworms, what is the cause, how are they transmitted, and what are the symptoms?

Type of roundworm How it is caused and transmitted Symptoms
Ascariasis Mostly transmitted because of poor hygiene. It is usually found in human feces and is transmitted from hand to mouth. No symptoms, live worm in your stool, wheezing, cough, fever, severe abdominal pain, vomiting, restlessness, disturbed sleep.
Hookworm Hookworm is passed by human feces onto the ground. It is transmitted by walking barefoot on contaminated soil. Diarrhea, barely noticeable abdominal pain, intestinal cramps, colic, nausea, and serious anemia. People in good health may not have any symptoms at all.
Pinworm infection Found in the colon and rectum, the pinworm infection is caused by a pinworms egg. It is transmitted when the female pinworm deposits her eggs in and around the anus. When you touch the eggs with your fingers, the eggs will enter your mouth and travel to your intestines. These eggs are also able to cling to bedding, clothing, toys, doorknobs, furniture, and faucets for up to two weeks. Pinworm is the most common out of all the parasitic roundworm infections. No symptoms to very mild symptoms. Itching around the anus or vagina may become intense after the eggs are laid.
Strongyloidiasis Strongyloidiasis is found in tropical, subtropical, and temperate regions. It is acquired through direct contact of contaminated soil. It enters through human skin, and then makes its way to the intestines. No symptoms to very mild symptoms. Moderate infections may cause burning in the abdomen, nausea, vomiting, and alternating diarrhea and constipation. Severe infections include anemia, weight loss, and chronic diarrhea.
Trichinosis Unlike other types of roundworms, Trichinosis is not an intestinal infection. It is an infection that affects muscle fibers. It is caused by undercooked sausage, pork, horse, walrus, and bear meat and causes serious problems in muscle fibers. It is transmitted through the consumption of these meats. No symptoms to very mild symptoms. Symptoms of the infection in the stomach are diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and tiredness. When the larvae enter the muscle fibers you may feel muscle aches and pains, high fever, swelling in the eyes and face, eye infection and rashes.
Whipworm Whipworm is contracted by coming in contact with it on your hands, eating food that has come in contact with it, or grown in soil contaminated with it. It is the third most common roundworm to infect humans. There are usually no symptoms. Although, severe infections may cause sporadic stomach pains, bloody stools, diarrhea, and weight loss.

Are roundworms contagious?

Yes. Roundworms are contagious through contact with infected stool of people or animals. Roundworms can also be contracted by contact with infected surfaces (usually soil and dirt).

How are roundworms diagnosed?

People are diagnosed with roundworms by taking a good clinical history and looking at the symptoms and then taking special blood tests and/ or looking at the swabbed eggs under a microscope.

How are roundworms treated?

The most common treatment for roundworms is a medication called albendazole. Your doctor may also prescribe an iron supplement, or a soothing cream to stop the itching pain. Sometimes, depending on the roundworm, the treatments need to be repeated after several weeks to make sure the roundworms eggs are completely eradicated.

Can roundworms be prevented?

There are a number of ways you can prevent infection with roundworms:

  • Periodically get your cat or dog dewormed.
  • Wash your hands well with soap and hot water after playing with pets or doing outdoor activities.
  • Don’t let children play outside near an animal’s stool.
  • Clean up after your pets.
  • Teach your children not to eat dirt or soil.

Can you get round worms from your pets and other animals?

Yes. If your pet has roundworms you may be exposed to the eggs or larvae in their feces. The eggs and larvae can survive in many different environments. If your pet is infected it can quickly spread the disease over a large area. Talk to your vet about how you can protect you and your pet from roundworms.

Should I call the doctor if I think I have roundworms?

Yes. Your doctor can perform the necessary tests needed to diagnose you properly. He or she will also provide you with the necessary medications. Make sure to tell your doctor if you have eaten any raw or undercooked meats, traveled to an area with poor hygiene and sanitation practices, or have come into contact with wild animals or infected pets.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 7/5/2013…#15240