An estimated 604-795 million people in the world are infected with whipworm. Whipworm, hookworm, and Ascaris are known as soil-transmitted helminths (parasitic worms). Together, they account for a major burden of disease worldwide.
Whipworms live in the large intestine and whipworm eggs are passed in the feces of infected persons. If the infected person defecates outside (near bushes, in a garden, or field) or if human feces as used as fertilizer, eggs are deposited on soil. They can then mature into a form that is infective. Whipworm infection is caused by ingesting eggs. This can happen when hands or fingers that have contaminated dirt on them are put in the mouth or by consuming vegetables or fruits that have not been carefully cooked, washed or peeled.
People infected with whipworm can suffer light or heavy infections. People with light infections usually have no symptoms. People with heavy symptoms can experience frequent, painful passage of stool that contains a mixture of mucus, water, and blood. Rectal prolapse can also occur. Children with heavy infections can become severely anemic and growth-retarded. Whipworm infections are treatable with medication prescribed by your health care provider.
Image: Left: Egg of T. trichiura in an iodine-stained wet mount. Right: Egg of T. trichiura in an unstained wet mount. Center: Micrograph of an adult female Trichuris human whipworm that is approximately 4cm long. Credit: DPDx, PHIL.