Deworming and nutrition

How bad is worm infestation in children and remedies

Worm infestations can affect people of all age groups, including children. According to the estimates of the World Health Organization, almost 64% of children below the age of 14 years have a high risk of worm infestations. Worms can be transmitted through the soil or through contaminated water. Deworming in children is essential for their good health and proper development. So, read on to know about the causes, symptoms and benefits of deworming.

Types of worms and causes

The most common worms are roundworms, whipworms, and hookworms. Worms generally lay their eggs in the soil and these eggs enter the child's body through egg-infested vegetables, which are not cleaned, peeled or cooked properly. They might also be ingested from contaminated sources of water. Children may ingest the worm by inserting their hands in their mouths while playing in the mud.

Infected individuals who defecate in the open also help spread the eggs of these worms through their faeces. Poor sanitation and unhygienic practices coupled with the lack of clean and safe drinking water add to the risk of worm infestations. Once these eggs enter your child's stomach through any of the above-mentioned routes, they get lodged in the child's intestines and become adult worms and lay eggs in large numbers. The eggs of worms are microscopic in nature and are not easily visible to the naked eye. They stay hidden in the intestine for a long period of time and can only be identified once the symptoms become severe. Mass deworming programmes are hence organized in many places to tackle this issue.

Symptoms of worm infestation

The symptoms are based on the intensity of worm infestation:

  • Children with light infections (lesser number of worms) usually do not show many symptoms.
  • When the number of worms increases, the infections become more intense and can lead to a wide range of symptoms, including diarrhoea, dysentery, abdominal pain and weakness.
  • Your child might be feeling itchy around the anus and might be scratching the region continuously. Constant itching and scratching might lead to the formation of rashes and sores in this region too.
  • There is a possibility that these worms can spread to the vaginal region in female children. There will be severe itching around the vagina in that case.
  • Another symptom that you should look out for is lack of appetite.

Impact on nutrition status

Worm infestations can have a negative effect on your child's nutritional status. Worms tend to feed on your child's tissues, including blood, and derive their own nutrition from these tissues. As a result, there is an obvious loss of iron and protein from your child's body and this can make your child anaemic. Worms tend to absorb the nutrients your child consumes, and as a result, they are not made available for his or her body’s growth and development. Nutrient depletion could lead to stunted growth in children and it can also adversely impact your child's overall mental development and education. Your child might suffer from a loss of appetite and might reduce the intake of food. This can also adversely affect your child's physical fitness.

Some worms tend to cause diarrhoea and dysentery. This can cause the loss of water, fluid and several essential electrolytes, making your child nutritionally deficient. This can further lead to a vicious cycle of malnutrition and infection, because when your child is malnourished, his or her immunity is compromised, and he is more prone to contracting other infections.

Prevention

Worm infestations can be prevented by adopting the following practices:

  • Always consume clean, potable and safe drinking water. This holds true not only for your child but also for adult members of the family.
  • Ensure that all vegetables, fruits, and meat are cleaned properly and washed thoroughly prior to cooking.
  • Ensure that all food items are properly cooked in a clean and hygienic manner. Always keep leftover food items covered and protected.
  • Ensure that your child uses proper footwear while in the house, especially when using the toilet. Make sure your child wears appropriate footwear while playing on the soil.
  • Make sure your child washes his or her hands well, using soap and water, particularly before and after eating, as well as after using the toilet. Using a hand sanitizer at frequent intervals may also be helpful.
  • Always maintain cleanliness at home and in your surroundings.

How is worm infestation treated?

The process of treating worm infestations is referred to as deworming. Deworming in children is carried out with the help of medications that have been proven to be safe. Your doctor can guide you with the medication and deworming schedule. The tablet should be broken and crushed between 2 spoons and should be taken with water. Older children should chew the tablet and, if required, should consume some water after that.

Deworming benefits

Deworming in children is beneficial in many ways:

  • Deworming toddlers can improve nutritional status and augment the child's physical growth.
  • It can help your child to gain appropriate weight.
  • Improved nourishment after deworming can help in the development of cognitive and mental abilities.
  • Deworming can aid in the management or prevention of anaemia.
  • It can boost immunity against infections

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Worm infestations can have hazardous consequences on the health of your child. They can, however, be prevented by following a strict hygiene regime. If you are concerned that your child has lost appetite or might be having an infestation, you should consult your doctor to discuss deworming medicines.

National Deworming Day

As per the Government of India, National Deworming Day is observed bi-annually on 10th February and 10th August, in all states and Union Territories of India. This mass deworming program is a joint initiative of the Department of School Education and Literacy under the Ministry of Human Resource and Development, Ministry of Women and Child Development, and the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation. The main beneficiaries of this program are children (both boys and girls) in the age group of 1-19 years.