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Have you ever heard of roundworm? Do you know anything about this kind of parasite? In this lesson, you will learn about the different types of roundworms and some of the characteristics they share.

An Intestinal Infection

”Come here, boy”, you yell, calling your dog Charlie in from the yard. Charlie is your beloved pet and your daily responsibility – you feed and walk him every day. But within the past few days, you’ve noticed that Charlie has been acting strangely.

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He seems a little tired, and you’ve noticed that his stomach is swollen. As time goes on, you notice that Charlie is getting worse rather than better, so you take him to his veterinarian. Dr. Ruiz gives Charlie a series of tests and, within a couple of days, calls you back with the results.

You learn that your dog has heartworms, a type of roundworm.What are roundworms and how did Charlie get them? Will he be alright? Dr. Ruiz assures you, that since the infection was caught early enough, Charlie will be just fine. Let’s take a few moments to learn more about roundworms.

Hookworm, a type of roundworm
roundworm

What is a Roundworm?

Roundworms, also known as nematodes, are parasitic worms that comprise the phylum nematoda. This phylum is made up of at least 25,000 known species, and some scientists believe the actual number could be much higher.

They can be found everywhere, including in topsoil and in the water. Many roundworms infect an organism’s intestine to survive, just like the ones that were living in Charlie. Roundworms can infect humans, cats, birds and many other types of animals.

Characteristics

Some nematodes live in so many different environments, they’re different in many ways.

For example, roundworms in environments with low food supply tend to be hermaphroditic – they have both male and female parts and so can self fertilize their eggs and carry them until they hatch. Other nematodes reproduce sexually, meaning there are males and females, and both participate in the production of offspring. But roundworms also have many shared characteristics. All Nematodes:

  • are invertebrates, and many are microscopic
  • have an elongated, slender, snakelike shape
  • have a rigid but flexible cuticle outer layer
  • move with a whip-like motion
  • have a sense of touch and can detect light and certain chemicals
  • breathe across their whole body
  • obtain nutrients via diffusion

Types

While we couldn’t possibly discuss each of the thousands of identified roundworms, we can talk about the most common types. The most famous nematodes are the ones that cause infection, like the roundworms that infected Charlie.

  • Ascaris lumbricoides is a parasitic roundworm found in human waste, and it causes respiratory symptoms, fever, stomach pain, and vomiting. It causes one of the most widespread roundworm infection among humans, ascariasis, which affects millions people around the globe.
  • Hookworms are parasites that pass through the lungs the intestines of their hosts, which can include humans, dogs, cats, birds and other animals. An infestation may cause diarrhea, slight abdominal pain, cramps, nausea, and anemia.
  • The pinworm is a parasite that tends to live in the colon and rectum of humans and other animals, and the females leave the body through the anus when the host is asleep to lay eggs on the skin.

    For that reason, pinworm can cause itching around the anus and genitals. This infection is very easy to spread, particularly among children.

  • Strongyloides stercoralis is a parasite that affects the intestines of humans – typically in underdeveloped countries where fecal contamination of water and soil is high – though it is also less-commonly found in dogs and cats.

    These roundworms make their home in the small intestine and cause burning in the stomach area, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, anemia, and weight loss.

  • Heartworms are common nematodes that infect the heart of animals, like dogs and cats. They are contracted by ingesting the eggs of the worm, which are deposited in the soil or on plants via the feces of an infected animal.

Treatment and Prevention

Dr. Ruiz prescribes Charlie a treatment regimen involving reduced exercise, blood testing, and immiticide injections that kill the heartworms in the blood vessels and rids Charlie of the infection.

Dr. Ruiz urges you to always give Charlie his preventative heartworm pill as advised to avoid an infection in the future. Other types of roundworms may require different treatment plans. For example, when a human acquires the ascariasis infection, he or she may take an anti-parasite medication for up to three days. However, if the infection is significant, surgery may be required to physically remove the parasites.To prevent human infection, wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, and avoid contact with animal feces. Also, if you walk across soil barefoot make sure to wash your feet thoroughly, as animal feces remnants may have roundworm eggs that can cause infection.

Lesson Summary

Roundworms, also called nematodes, are parasitic worms that comprise the phylum nematoda. Many roundworms are parasitic and infect humans and other animals. These invertebrates have a snakelike shape and move with a whip-like motion. They have a sense of touch, obtain nutrients via diffusion, may detect light, and can breathe across the entire body. Roundworms can be hermaphroditic or reproduce sexually. Some well-known nematodes include ascaris lumbricoides, hookworms, and heartworms.

You can prevent roundworms in pets with oral medications, and humans can prevent infection through good hygiene.

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