Roundworm infections can be reduced significantly simply by improving the treatment and quality of drinking water in high risk regions, according to an international team of researchers led by Tufts University.
The discovery emerged from a two-year study, published in PloS Medicine, which examined the effects of water quality, sanitation, handwashing and nutritional interventions on rates of intestinal worm and Giardia infections in rural Kenya. Water treatment alone was sufficient to cause an 18 percent reduction in infection rates in roundworm (Ascaris) infections; the reduction was 22 percent when water treatment was combined with improved sanitation and handwashing with soap. None of the interventions reduced the prevalence of Giardia infections among the young children studied.
Intestinal worm and protozoan infections affect more than 1 billion children worldwide and are associated with stunted growth and impaired cognitive development. These parasites often reside in the soil and contaminated drinking water or fecal-contaminated surfaces and lead to common infections in children in low resource settings. High re-infection rates have prevented school-based mass drug administration programs from controlling the transmission of these parasitic infections. The study authors hypothesized that improved water quality, sanitation, hygiene and/or nutrition could interrupt the environmental transmission of parasites, but few trials evaluating these interventions have measured actual infections as an outcome. In contrast to aggressive medical treatment programs, the water treatment, sanitation, and handwashing approaches represent a sustainable approach to disease control.