About Whipworms

Key points

  • Whipworm is a parasite that lives in your large intestines.
  • The name comes from the worm's whip-like shape.
  • Whipworm infections are treatable with medication.
  • Whipworm infection is sometimes called trichuriasis.
Whipworm

Overview

The whipworm parasite, Trichuris trichiura, is a soil-transmitted helminth. The larvae (immature worms) and adult forms of the parasite live in a person's intestines. People get whipworms by consuming contaminated soil. Globally, whipworms infect an estimated 429 – 508 million people.

Symptoms

People with whipworm infections can experience light (only a few worms) to heavy (many worms) infections.

People with light infections usually have no signs or symptoms. Heavy infections are more common in children. People with heavy infections can experience:

  • Severe frequent, painful bowel movements that contain a mixture of mucus, water, and blood
  • Diarrhea that typically smells worse than usual

Complications

People with heavy infections can also experience rectal prolapse (when the rectum sags and comes out of the anus).

Heavy infections can also cause serious health issues in children. These can include

  • Slow growth in children
  • Severe anemia (anemia is a condition where there are not enough red blood cells in the body.)
  • Impaired cognitive development (cognitive impairment is when a person has trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating, or making decisions.)

See a healthcare provider if you have these symptoms.

Causes

A person infected with whipworm passes the parasite eggs in their feces (poop). If an infected person defecates (poops) outside, uses an unimproved sanitation facility (when there is no sanitary separation of human waste from human contact), or uses human feces as fertilizer, the eggs can get into the soil. Here they will grow into a form that is infective.

People get whipworms by consuming infective eggs found in contaminated soil.

Prevention

To lower your risk of getting whipworms

  • Wash your hands after going to the bathroom and before handling food.
  • Wash, peel, and cook raw fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid soil and water contaminated with human feces (poop).

To prevent spreading whipworm infection to others in a community setting

  • Do not defecate outdoors, if possible,
  • Use improved sanitation facilities, if available, to ensure separation of human waste from human contact, and
  • Do not use human feces as fertilizer for crops.
  • Teach children the importance of handwashing to prevent infections.

Diagnosis

Your healthcare provider can take a stool (poop) sample and examine it for whipworm eggs under a microscope. This is the only way to know if you have a whipworm infection.

Treatment and recovery

Your healthcare provider can prescribe drugs to help your body get rid of whipworms. Treatment lasts 1 – 3 days and is highly effective.