Roundworms are the most commonly found parasites of the intestinal tract in humans, as well as animals and pets. More than 15,000 species of this worm are identified and named, and there are still thousands of species left which need to be classified. They cause a number of health problems and hence, studying roundworm characteristics and other intestinal parasites is an important aspect in medical pathology.
Roundworms are primitive organisms, having no respiratory or circulatory system. They have a hollow body with two openings at the ends. However, the head is not distinctive or identifiable to the naked eye.
They have elongated body with tapering ends. They vary in length from few centimeters to up to 2 m. Classified as nematodes, they are invertebrates, and have an unsegmented and cylindrical body. They are categorized under the phylum Nematoda and kingdom Animalia.
These nematodes are highly adaptable to nearly all habitats, ranging from polar to tropical areas, freshwater to marine water, and a wide range of soil types. In fact, they are present everywhere, except the inhospitable deserts. Many species are free-living; while some are parasites, thriving and feeding on host organisms (plants and animals). The harmless free-living worms feed on soil microbes and plant matter.
Apart from the typical male and female worms, some roundworms are hermaphroditic, meaning they have both the male and female reproductive organs in the body. Thus, they can reproduce on their own under favorable environmental conditions, which increases their population in a specific habitat.
Infection in Humans
These worms infect humans in a large number, and majority of the patients are toddlers and small children. Once they enter the body, they live in the intestine and feed on the nutrients, causing malnutrition. If left unchecked, they multiply to a large number and result in severe medical complications. Elephantiasis, characterized with hypertrophy of the leg parts, is caused due to infection of this worm.
Infection in Pets
Besides humans, these worms infect dogs and cats. House pets get infected with them, either through soil, while playing in the lawn, or by consuming contaminated foods. Also, newborn puppies and kittens can get this worm from their mother at the time of birth. Symptoms of its infestation in pets include coughing, vomiting, and increased lethargy. De-worming cat and dogs at regular intervals is a practical solution to prevent such cases.
Roundworms are Contagious
One of the important facts about these worms is that they are contagious and can be transferred from one infected person to another. Thus, a family with a member diagnosed with these worms, should implement sanitizing methods in the house to prevent spread of these worms to other members.
Parasitic Roundworm Examples
Examples of parasitic roundworms, which can infect humans and cause diseases are, filaria worms (cause elephantiasis), trichinella (cause trichinosis), hookworms (infestation for a long time causes anemia and helminthiasis), ascaris (cause ascariasis), and pinworms (infest the large intestine). These worms not only cause nutrient deficiency symptoms and malabsorption, but they increase the risk of other severe medical complications.
In order to prevent such infections in children and adults (as well as in pets), it is imperative to follow personal hygiene and proper sanitizing methods. Also, consumption of contaminated and poorly cooked foods should be avoided.