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A whipworm infection, also known as trichuriasis, is an infection of the large intestine caused by a parasite called Trichuris trichiura. This parasite is commonly known as a "whipworm" because it resembles a whip.
A whipworm infection can develop after ingesting water or dirt contaminated with feces containing whipworm parasites. Anyone who has come into contact with contaminated feces can also contract a whipworm infection. The infection most often occurs in children. It is also more common in people who live in regions with hot, humid climates and in areas with poor hygiene and sanitation.
Approximately 600 to 800 million people around the world have a whipworm infection. This type of infection can also occur in animals, including cats and dogs.
A whipworm infection can cause a variety of symptoms, ranging from mild to severe. They may include the following:
A whipworm infection is caused by a parasite called Trichuris trichiura. This parasite is also known as a "whipworm" because it is shaped like a whip. It has a thick section on one end that resembles the whip handle, and a narrow section on the other end that looks like the whip.
People typically get whipworm infections after consuming dirt or water contaminated with feces containing whipworm parasites or their eggs. Whipworm eggs can get into the soil when contaminated feces are used in fertilizers or when an infected person or animal defecates outside.
Someone might unknowingly ingest the whipworm parasites or their eggs when they:
Once they reach the small intestine, whipworm eggs hatch and release larvae. When the larvae mature, the adult worms live in the large intestine. The female worms usually begin to deposit eggs about two months later. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the females shed between 3,000 and 20,000 eggs per day.
A whipworm infection can occur in anyone. However, people may be more likely to contract a whipworm infection if they:
Children also have a higher risk of getting a whipworm infection. They often play outdoors and might not wash their hands thoroughly before eating.
To diagnose a whipworm infection, your doctor will order a stool test. You will be required to give a sample of your feces to a lab for testing. The stool test can determine whether there are whipworms or whipworm eggs in your intestines and feces.
This type of test shouldn’t cause any discomfort or pain. Your doctor will give you a sterile container and a kit containing plastic wrap and special bathroom tissue. Place the plastic wrap loosely over the toilet bowl and make sure it’s held in place by the toilet seat. After you have a bowel movement, use the special tissue to put the stool into the container. For infants, the diaper can be lined with the plastic wrap to collect the sample. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after the test.
The sample will be sent to a lab, where it will be analyzed under a microscope for the presence of whipworms and their eggs.
The most common and effective treatment for a whipworm infection is an antiparasitic medication, such as albendazole and mebendazole. This type of medication gets rid of any whipworms and whipworm eggs in the body. The medication usually needs to be taken for one to three days. Side effects are minimal.
Once your symptoms subside, your doctor may want to perform another stool test to make sure the infection is gone.
Most people who receive treatment for a whipworm infection make a full recovery. When left untreated, however, the infection can become severe and cause complications. These include:
To reduce your risk of contracting a whipworm infection, you should:
The spread of whipworm can be prevented in high-risk areas by installing effective sewage disposal systems.
Written by: Amber Erickson Gabbey and Jacquelyn Cafasso
Medically reviewed on: Jan 26, 2016: George Krucik, MD MBA
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