Worm infections are rampant among children and they have been adversely affecting their physical as well as mental growth. Worms are a common cause of anaemia and they may also cause intestinal obstruction. The World Health Organization (WHO) has highlighted the intensity of the threat caused by worm infections in India.
In India 22 crore children aged 1-14 are estimated to be vulnerable to worm infections. Globally, India bears the highest burden of soil-transmitted helminths (STH) which are parasitic worms which live in the intestine. These worms consume nutrients which are meant for the human body.
The central government has acknowledged this threat and has launched a nationwide deworming program. This year August 10 was marked as deworming day, and children aged between 1 to 19 years were given medication in schools and Anganwadis in order to free them from the worms. Now, the second phase of the deworming campaign will be carried out on August 17.
There are several adverse effects of STH on the nutritional status of the children. The worms feed on host tissues as well as blood, which is an important cause of loss of iron and protein. The worms enhance malabsorption of nutrients. Some soil-transmitted helminths are also responsible for the loss of appetite.
Therefore, a reduction of nutritional intake and physical fitness may be seen. It also increases the risk of diarrhoea and dysentery.
“Cases of worm infections are very common. Most of the times, parents don’t realise that their children have got a worm infection. They bring them to us because children are not eating properly. After the check-up, the infection is detected. After the children are dewormed it is important to deworm the family as well,” said Dr Pramod Bagul, Paediatrician, Mumbai.
The STH infection spreads rapidly as the worms produce over thousand eggs per day and these are passed in human faeces. These eggs are transmitted through contaminated soil and water. Open defecation and poor sanitation are key factors which are instrumental in the spread of the STH infection.
“The eggs of these worms can enter the body through skin as well. They are very minute. That’s why it is important to take some precautions in order to avoid worm infections. One should always use footwear and avoid eating roadside food. Such simple measures can help prevent the infection,” said Dr Hemant Joshi, Paediatrician.
According to the National Family Health Survey 2006, almost 7 in 10 children aged between 6 to 5 years are anaemic. The survey observed that the rate of anaemia is higher in rural areas.
“Worm infections lead to anaemia. The problem of worm infection is more prevalent in rural area as compared to urban areas. The fact that this problem still persists, speaks a lot about our healthcare system. It reflects the real condition of the poor standards of our sanitation habits. Hand washing after defecation is a simple thing which is not practised. We need to focus on deworming Abhiyan as well, along with Swachh Bharat Abhiyan,” said Dr Amol Annadate Paediatrician, neonatal expert and writer based in Vaijapur, (Aurangabad district) in Maharashtra.