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Gnathostomiasis: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About gnathostomiasis

Gnathostomiasis is a parasitic infection caused by the roundworm named Gnathostoma spinigerum and Gnathostoma hispidum. This roundworm usually infects vertebrate animals but humans may get accidentally affected. Gnathostomiasis involves skin and internal organs of the afflicted individual.

Gnathostomiasis: Incidence, age and sex

Gnathostomiasis is usually encountered in individuals residing in certain regions of Africa, South-East Asia and South America. This parasitic infection may afflict an individual of any age group and has no predilection for a specific gender.

Signs and symptoms of gnathostomiasis: Diagnosis

The clinical features of gnathostomiasis generally appear 3 to 4 weeks after exposure. The distinct character of this infection, is its migratory nature. The larva of roundworm typically migrates first into the subcutaneous tissue under the skin giving rise to redness and swelling over skin which is highly itchy and painful. Such skin lesions are not static but migrate from one part to another following the trail of moving larva under the skin. This characteristic state is termed as ‘cutaneous larva migrans’ in medical terms. Occasionally, when the infection is prolonged, the larva can migrate to visceral organs. This state is called ‘visceral larva migrans’ and manifests with any of these features like fever, cough, vomiting or blood in urine. Eye or ear involvement may seldom be encountered.

A detailed history including diet history and comprehensive physical examination may give a clue to the diagnosis of gnathostomiasis. The diagnosis can be corroborated by increased count of eosinophils in the blood test. Microscopic examination and detection of worms in specimen of affected tissue or serological tests may establish the diagnosis.

Causes and prevention of gnathostomiasis

Gnathostomiasis is caused by a nematode or roundworm called Gnathostoma spinigerum and Gnathostoma hispidum. Ingestion of raw or undercooked, contaminated fish and poultry lead to this parasitic infection. This roundworm needs two hosts namely intermediate and definitive - to complete its life cycle. Cyclops are its intermediate hosts and vertebrate animals are its definitive hosts. Humans become accidental definitive hosts on consumption of contaminated meat.

Certain preventive measures like maintaining adequate sanitation, preserving meat at very low, freezing temperatures and cooking at very high temperatures may help in keeping this infection at bay.

Gnathostomiasis: Complications

The larva of Gnathostomiasis may spread to brain resulting in long-term neurological effects in some individuals. Pneumonia, which is a serious respiratory infection may also be encountered in untreated cases. However, the most dreaded but rarely encountered complication is the spread of infection in blood, also known as sepsis. It is a potentially life-threatening condition.

Gnathostomiasis: Treatment

Anti-parasitic medications like Albendazole or Ivermectin are generally prescribed to eliminate the offending parasite. Surgical removal of parasites can also be done if they are in accessible locations in body of affected individual. It is recommended to continue the anti-parasitic medication in spite of surgical intervention, to effectively eliminate the worms.