The public health significance of Trichuris trichiura
An estimated 1049 million persons harbour T. trichiura, including 114 million preschool-age children and 233 million school-age children. The prevalence of T. trichiura is high and may reach 95% in children in many parts of the world where protein energy malnutrition and anaemias are also prevalent and access to medical care and educational opportunities is often limited. The Trichuris dysentery syndrome (TDS) associated with heavy T. trichiura, which includes chronic dysentery, rectal prolapse, anaemia, poor growth, and clubbing of the fingers constitutes an important public health problem, as do lighter but still heavy infections, even if not strictly TDS, especially in children. The profound growth stunting in TDS can be reversed by repeated treatment for the infection and, initially, oral iron. However findings from Jamaica strongly suggest that the significant developmental and cognitive deficits seen are unlikely to disappear without increasing the positive psychological stimulation in the child's environment. The severe stunting in TDS now appears likely to be a reaction at least in part to a chronic inflammatory response and concomitant decreases in plasma insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), increases in tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) in the lamina propria of the colonic mucosa and peripheral blood (which likely decrease appetite and intake of all nutrients) and a decrease in collagen synthesis. Improvements in cognitive performance have been found after treatment for relatively heavy infections (without chronic dysentery) in school-going children; it is unclear precisely how much T. trichiura interferes with children's ability to access educational opportunities, but treatment of infections whenever possible is obviously sensible. The blood loss that can occur in T. trichiura infection is likely to contribute to anaemia, particularly if the child also harbours hookworm, malaria and/or has a low intake of dietary iron. Community control is important, particularly for the individuals within a population who harbour heavy worm burdens; this means children, with special attention to girls who will experience increased iron requirements and blood loss due to menstruation, pregnancies, and lactation. Mebendazole and albendazole, both of which are on the WHO Essential Drugs List, are very effective against T. trichiura; multiple doses are needed to attain complete parasitological cure in all cases. However the goal of control programmes in endemic areas is morbidity reduction, which follows when intensity of infection is significantly reduced.
Key Words: Trichuris trichiura; trichuriasis; Trichuris dysentery syndrome; child malnutrition; anaemia; cognitive development; school achievement; school attendance; tumor necrosis factor-α.
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