What are roundworms in humans?
King Richard III remains were discovered in Leicester, England in 2012. While examining his remains, researchers discovered roundworm eggs. They sought to determine if he had been infected with the parasitic roundworms. Most of the roundworm eggs (15) were found in the coffin at the pelvic area of the king's remains while only one egg was found in soil surrounding the grave. The researchers found no other evidence for other parasites and concluded the evidence strongly supports the conclusion that King Richard III suffered from a roundworm parasitic infection.
Roundworms, also known as nematodes, are a common term for parasites that comprise the phylum Nematoda that contain mainly free-living species and are located everywhere on earth. Roundworms are not ringworm, which is a fungal infection. Researchers estimate there may be as many as 500,000 species, but only about 60 species infect humans and animals as parasites. The most commonly identified parasites that use us and some animals as food for survival, multiplication, and spread (transmission to others) are termed ascariasis, trichuriasis, hookworm, enterobiasis, strongyloidiasis, filariasis, and trichinosis. Each nematode has a life cycle that can be complex. Many have only part of their cycle completed in humans and animals.
What are the symptoms of roundworms infection?
Individuals infected with roundworm parasites may show:
- abdominal pain,
- blood-tinged sputum,
- shortness of breath,
- fever (from migrating parasites that invade the lungs),
- muscle pains,
- lymphedema and
- even "worms" visible in the patient's eye.
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How to treat roundworms
Drugs (anthelmintic agents) are used to treat most infected patients and animals. Specific agents are used according to the species of infecting roundworm. Diagnosis is usually accomplished by identification of the species of infecting roundworm. This typically involves identification of the characteristic parasite eggs, usually found in the patient's feces. However, some can also be identified by their appearance in tissue biopsies, blood smears, or by immunological methods that are specific for individual types of roundworms.
How to prevent roundworms
Good hygiene, sanitation, and avoidance of certain arthropod bites (for example, black flies) are the best ways to avoid roundworm infections. In the 14th century, kings, commoners, and cats (and other animals) all had poor hygiene and sanitation that made them all susceptible to roundworm infection. Most roundworms don't readily distinguish between kings or commoners. Alas, like poor King Richard III, but for good hygiene, sanitation, screen doors, and bug repellent, go you or I!
Medically reviewed by Robert Cox, MD; American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Infectious Disease
Hökelek, Murat. "Nematode Infections." Medscape.com. Dec. 5, 2011. <http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/224011-overview>.