What is a Whipworm Infection?
Whipworm infection, also known as trichuriasis, is an infection of the large intestine caused by whipworm parasites. Most common in children, whipworm infection is transmitted through fecal matter. Anyone who has come in contact with contaminated soil or feces can contract the infection. Whipworm infections can occur anywhere, but are most common in regions with hot and humid climates.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one billion people worldwide are infected with whipworms (CDC, 2010). Whipworm infections can also occur in animals, including pet cats and dogs.
What Causes Whipworm Infection?
Humans typically get whipworm infections from consuming soil or water contaminated with the whipworm parasites or their eggs. Usually, the soil or water has been contaminated by infected animal or human feces.
A whipworm is technically called a Trichuris trichiura. “Whipworm” is a nickname based on the way the worm looks—like a whip, with a thick section that looks like a “handle” on one end and a narrow section that looks like the whip at the other.
Symptoms of Whipworm Infection
Whipworm infection can cause a variety of symptoms, ranging from mild to severe. Some people have no symptoms, while others experience the following:
- bloody diarrhea
- painful or frequent defecation
- abdominal pain
- nausea and vomiting
- weight loss or malnutrition
- iron-deficiency anemia
- fecal incontinence (the inability to control defecation)
- rectal prolapse (when the walls of your rectum protrude from your body)
Risk Factors of Whipworm Infection
Risk factors for contracting whipworm infection include:
- living in a hot, humid climate
- contact with soil that contains manure
- contact with or consumption of raw vegetables grown in manure-fertilized soil
- living in areas with poor sanitation and hygiene practices
Diagnosing 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 worms or eggs in your intestines and feces.
Treating Whipworm Infection
The most common and effective treatments for whipworm infection are the antiparasitic medications albendazole and mebendazole. You will need to take the medication for between one and three days. Side effects are minimal.
Outlook for Whipworm Infection
Most people who seek treatment for whipworm infection make a full recovery.
Untreated, severe infections in children may cause rare complications, including clubbing of the fingers, rectal prolapse, or infections in the colon and appendix. (CFSPH- ISU)
Preventing Whipworm Infection
To help prevent whipworm infection:
- Wash your hands thoroughly, especially before handling food.
- Wash, peel, or cook foods thoroughly before eating them.
- Teach children to not eat soil and to wash their hands after playing outdoors.
- Boil or purify drinking water that may be contaminated.
- Avoid contact with soil contaminated with fecal matter (human or animal).
- Use caution around animal feces and clean up fecal matter when possible.
- Keep grass cut short in areas where dogs regularly defecate.
- To prevent the spread of whipworm infection, refrain from defecating outdoors.