What is whipworm?
Whipworm (Trichuris trichiura) is an intestinal parasite of humans. The larvae and adult worms live in the intestine of humans and can cause intestinal disease. The name comes from the worm’s whip-like shape.
How is whipworm spread?
Whipworms live in the intestine and whipworm eggs are passed in the feces (poop) of infected persons. If the infected person defecates (poops) outside—for example, near bushes, in a garden, or field—or if the feces of an infected person is used as fertilizer, then eggs are deposited on the soil. They can then grow into a form of the worm that can infect others. Roundworm 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 eating vegetables or fruits that have not been carefully washed, peeled, or cooked.
Who is at risk for infection?
Infection occurs worldwide in warm and humid climates where access to personal hygiene and proper sanitation practices are not available, including in temperate climates during warmer months. Persons in these areas are at risk if soil contaminated with human feces enters their mouths or if they eat vegetables or fruits that have not been carefully washed, peeled, or cooked.
What are the signs and symptoms of whipworm?
People with light infections usually have no signs or symptoms. People with heavy infections can experience frequent, painful bowel movements that contain a mixture of mucus, water, and blood. The diarrhea typically smells worse than usual. Severe cases can slow growth in children. Rectal prolapse (when the rectum sags and comes out of the anus) can also occur. In children, heavy infection may also be associated with impaired cognitive development.
How is whipworm diagnosed?
Health care providers can diagnose whipworm by taking a stool (poop) sample. Providers look for whipworm eggs under a microscope.
How can I prevent infection?
- Avoid contact with soil that may be contaminated with human feces, including with human fecal matter (“night soil”) used to fertilize crops.
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water before handling food.
- Teach children the importance of washing hands to prevent infection.
- Wash, peel, or cook all raw vegetables and fruits before eating, particularly those that have been grown in soil that has been fertilized with manure.
More on: Handwashing
Transmission of infection to others can be prevented by
- Not defecating outdoors, and
- Effective sewage disposal systems.
What is the treatment for whipworm?
Whipworm infections are generally treated for 1–3 days with medication prescribed by your health care provider. The drugs are effective and appear to have few side effects.
What is preventive treatment?
In developing countries, groups at higher risk for soil-transmitted helminth infections (hookworm, Ascaris, and whipworm) are often treated without a prior stool examination. Treating in this way is called preventive treatment (or “preventive chemotherapy”). The high-risk groups identified by the World Health Organization are preschool and school-age children, women of childbearing age (including pregnant women in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters and lactating women), and adults in occupations where there is a high risk of heavy infections. School-age children are often treated through school-health programs and preschool children and pregnant women at visits to health clinics.
What is mass drug administration (MDA)?
The soil-transmitted helminths (hookworm, Ascaris, and whipworm) and four other “neglected tropical diseases” (river blindness, lymphatic filariasis, schistosomiasis, and trachoma) are sometimes treated through mass drug administrations. Since the drugs used are safe and inexpensive or donated, entire risk groups are offered preventive treatment. Mass drug administrations are conducted periodically (often annually), commonly with drug distributors who go door to door. Multiple neglected tropical diseases are often treated at the same time using MDAs.
This information is not meant to be used for self-diagnosis or as a substitute for consultation with a health care provider. If you have any questions about the parasites described above or think that you may have a parasitic infection, consult a health care provider.