What Is a Whipworm Infection?
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.
to 800 million people around the world have a whipworm infection. This type
of infection can also occur in animals, including cats and dogs.
What Are the Symptoms of a
A whipworm infection can cause a variety of symptoms, ranging
from mild to severe. They may include the following:
- bloody diarrhea
- painful or frequent defecation
- abdominal pain
- sudden and unexpected weight loss
- fecal incontinence, or the inability to control
What Causes a Whipworm Infection?
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
- touch the dirt and then put their hands or
fingers in or near their mouth
- eat fruits or vegetables that haven’t been
thoroughly washed, cooked, or peeled
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.
What Are the Risk Factors for a
A whipworm infection can occur in anyone. However, people may be
more likely to contract a whipworm infection if they:
- live in a region with a hot, humid climate
- live in an area with poor sanitation and hygiene
- work in an industry where they come into contact
with soil that contains manure
- eat raw vegetables that are grown in soil
fertilized with manure
Children also have a higher risk of getting a whipworm infection.
They often play outdoors and might not wash their hands thoroughly before
How Is a Whipworm Infection
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
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.
How Is a Whipworm Infection Treated?
The most common and effective treatment for a whipworm infection
is an antiparasitic medication, such as albendazole
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.
What Is the Outlook for Someone
with a Whipworm Infection?
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:
- delayed growth or cognitive development
- infections in the colon and appendix
- rectal prolapse, which occurs when a section of
the large intestine protrudes from the anus
- anemia, which occurs when
the number of healthy red blood cells drops too low
How Can a Whipworm Infection Be
To reduce your risk of contracting a whipworm infection, you
- Wash your hands thoroughly, especially before
- Wash, peel, or cook foods thoroughly before
- Teach children not to eat soil and to wash their
hands after playing outdoors.
- Boil or purify drinking water that may be
- Avoid contact with soil contaminated with fecal
- Use caution around animal feces and clean up
fecal matter when possible.
- Confine livestock, such as pigs, into pens.
These enclosures should be thoroughly cleaned on a regular basis.
- Keep the grass cut short in areas where dogs or
cats regularly defecate.
The spread of whipworm can be prevented in high-risk areas by
installing effective sewage disposal systems.