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Whipworms (Trichuris Trichiura)

What are whipworms?

Whipworms get their name from the characteristic shape of the adult worms. The adult worm grows to about 3-5 cm in length and lives for about 1-3 years. The adult worm lives in the large intestine of the human host with one end embedded in the intestinal wall. The female worm can produce more than 10,000 eggs per day which are then passed out in the stools.

What is trichuriasis?

Infestation with whipworms is called trichuriasis. It occurs most commonly among children.

How is it transmitted?

Transmission occurs when a child ingests food or drinks contaminated with the infective eggs. It can also occur if a child puts his finger into the mouth after playing in contaminated soil. The eggs then hatch in the intestine of the child.

What are the symptoms?

Light infections (less than 100 worms)

  • There may not be any symptoms.
  • Sometimes, there may be flatulence, diarrhoea, constipation or abdominal discomfort.

Heavy infections (hundreds to thousands of worms) may be associated with:

  • Abdominal pain.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhoea (may be bloody).
  • Anaemia (reduced haemoglobin in the blood).
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Loss of weight.
  • Rectal prolapse (protrusion of rectum through anus).
  • Growth retardation.

What are the dangers of whipworm infestations?

In severe cases, dehydration and anaemia can result from bloody diarrhoea. Rarely rectal prolapse occurs.

How do you know if your child has whipworm infestation?

When your child passes whipworm eggs in the stool (which can be detected by microscopic examination of the stool), then your child has the infestation.

How is it treated?

It can be treated effectively by taking oral medication (Albendazole for 1 day or Mebendazole for 3 days). Repeat treatment may occasionally be necessary (if symptoms persist beyond 2 weeks after initial treatment).

Prevention

  • Hand washing before food handling.
  • Preventing your child from playing in soil that may be contaminated with whipworm eggs.
  • Thorough washing of food that may have been contaminated with soil.
Last reviewed : 28 August 2020
Writer : Dr. R. Sukumar a/l Rajaretnam
Reviewer : Dr. Zainab bt. Kusiar