Over 807 million to 1.2 billion people in the world live with Ascariasis – one of the most widespread worm infections . It is commonly found in the tropics and subtropic regions of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. It is uncommon in the United States; cases are usually associated with travel to higher-risk countries. For example, a January 2022 publication by Ghahremani and Hahn reviews the clinical implications of Ascariasis re-emerging in the United States due to travel to endemic regions .
On the plus side, Ascariasis infections cannot spread from person to person, and infected individuals often have mild or no symptoms. Even if symptomatic, treatment is very effective and inexpensive. Developed nations have low levels of ascariasis because of good sanitary conditions and hygiene. However, rural and urban areas of developing countries do not fare equally well.
Although most ascariasis infections may be mild, millions of young children are affected by ascariasis every year. If the worm load is high, there can be severe consequences like malnutrition and stunted growth. It can even be fatal. We see 12 million new cases a year and over 10,000 Ascariasis-related deaths . While the mortality rate is not high, it is heartbreaking to realize that most are preventable.
Ascariasis falls under the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). Along with dengue, leprosy, chikungunya, lymphatic filariasis, rabies, and others, these are a group of diseases that are often overlooked compared to HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, and other high-profile diseases. Six of these NTDs, including ascariasis, are infections caused by worms. In particular, the infections are caused by soil-transmitted helminths (STHs). Helminth refers to a parasitic worm .
With awareness, mass public health initiatives, and better sanitation, millions of people worldwide can be free from worm-related infections like Ascariasis.