What is roundworm?

A roundworm infection is a disease of the digestive tract, which is caused by a group of parasitic worms known as nematodes.

Roundworm infections can occur all over the world but is most common in warm, moist climates and in countries were raw fish or squid is popular.

How is roundworm contracted?

The most common way of contracting a roundworm infection is by eating contaminated food or touching the mouth with unwashed hands.

In Ireland, the only common type of roundworm is the threadworm.

Ascariasis is a common type of roundworm infection worldwide, but is uncommon in Ireland. It is one of the most widespread parasitic infections in the world, affecting over one billion people. Ascarid roundworms are capable of growing up to 14 inches long and releasing 200,000 eggs a day.

The eggs infect people who eat unwashed vegetables from contaminated soil or touch their mouths with unwashed hands.

With this particular infection, the larvae end up in the intestine but only after they have travelled through other areas such as the lungs and the liver.

The first symptoms may occur while the larvae are in the lungs. They may include difficulty in breathing, coughing and chest pain. When the larvae reach the intestines, symptoms may include cramps and nausea.

Another type of roundworm infection to be wary of is toxocariasis. This particular infection is caused by a type of roundworm which lives in the intestines of cats and dogs. While adults are susceptible to this infection, those most likely to get it are young children in the two-to-four age group who play in areas contaminated by pet faeces. If you have a dog, this may mean your own back garden.

While the eggs of these parasites hatch in the intestine, the larvae that hatch from these eggs travel to all parts of the body including the heart and brain.

Symptoms of this infection can include coughing, wheezing, fever, skin rashes and inflammation of the lungs.

How can I prevent roundworm?

There is no vaccine against roundworm infection and if you contract it, you will not become immune to it. Therefore prevention is essential. Strict hygiene is essential, especially when it comes to food. Always wash your hands before and after eating or preparing food.

With regard to toxocariasis, keep children away from areas that may be contaminated with pet faeces. If you have a pet cat or dog, always clean up their faeces so there is none in the garden or house.

Make sure your children wash their hands before meals and after playing with any animals. Finally, have any household pets dewormed by the vet regularly.

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