Symptoms of roundworm infection
Roundworm is a rare condition in Northern Ireland. You should suspect it if you've been abroad within the last two years to a region where roundworm is common, such as Africa or Asia, and if you:
- experience unexplained asthma-like symptoms (wheeze or shortness of breath)
- have persistent symptoms, such as vomiting or diarrhoea
- pass a worm in your faeces -the worms have a distinct appearance
Less commonly, symptoms can include a high temperature and dry cough 4-16 days after swallowing the eggs.
When to see your GP
A roundworm infection often doesn't usually cause any noticeable symptoms. But symptoms are more likely with large numbers of roundworm. People usually see their GP because they've seen a worm in their stools (faeces).
You should see your GP if you notice a roundworm in your faeces or you have unexplained symptoms (as above) after visiting a tropical or sub-tropical country.
A roundworm infection can be diagnosed by examining a small sample of faeces under a microscope. Infection is confirmed by the presence of eggs or a worm in the sample.
Treating a roundworm infection
Roundworm infections can usually be successfully treated with medication. Your GP will discuss treatment options with you.
A roundworm infection is also sometimes known as ascariasis or ascaris. It is usually easy to treat.
Roundworms are parasites. They use the human body to stay alive, feed and reproduce.
If a lot of eggs have been swallowed, or if the worms move from the small intestine to other parts of the body, they can cause serious complications, such as a bowel obstruction. In Northern Ireland, these types of complications are rare.
How a roundworm infection occurs
Roundworms are spread when eggs are present in human faeces (poo) and are picked up from contaminated soil, food or water. (See below for how to avoid infection when travelling).
A roundworm infection can occur if you swallow the microscopic ascaris eggs in contaminated food or water. It's also possible for eggs to be transferred from your hands to your mouth after touching contaminated soil.
After the eggs mature into adult worms, the worms produce more eggs. The eggs are released from the body through the bowel, and can then infect other people.
The more roundworms there are inside your body, the worse your symptoms are likely to be.
Preventing a roundworm infection
Regularly washing your hands can help prevent the spread of a roundworm infection.
You should take additional precautions if you're travelling to a part of the world where roundworm is common.
Precautions include only drinking bottled water and avoiding raw fruit and vegetables.
These are the same precautions that help prevent many other infections linked to poor sanitation.
People commonly affected by roundworm
Soil-transmitted worm infections, including roundworm, are among the most common infections worldwide. They affect poor and deprived communities, where there is overcrowding and poor sanitation.
It's estimated that about a quarter (24 per cent) of the world’s population currently has a soil-transmitted worm infection.
Infections commonly occur in tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world, including in sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas, China and east Asia.
Most recorded cases of roundworm in Northern Ireland are contracted abroad, either by travellers or migrants who come from parts of the world where roundworm is present.