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Wednesday 24 November 2004

Parasitic worms are highly differentiated multicellular organisms. Their life cycles are complex; most alternate between sexual reproduction in the definitive host and asexual multiplication in an intermediary host or vector.

Thus, depending on parasite species, humans may harbor either adult worms (e.g., Ascarus lumbricoides) or immature stages (e.g., Toxocara canis) or asexual larval forms (e.g., Echinococcus species).

Once adult worms take up residence in humans, they do not multiply but generate eggs or larvae destined for the next phase of the cycle. An exception is Strongyloides stercoralis, the larvae of which can become infectious in the gut and cause overwhelming autoinfection in immunosuppressed persons.

There are two important consequences of the lack of replication of adult worms:
- (1) Disease is often caused by inflammatory responses to the eggs or larvae rather than to the adults (e.g., schistosomiasis)
- (2) disease is in proportion to the number of organisms that have infected the individual (e.g., 10 hookworms cause little disease, whereas 1000 hookworms cause severe anemia by consuming 100 mL of blood per day).


- helminth infections (helminthiases)

See also

- infectious agents

  • parasites


- Trichuris trichiura in the caecum

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See also

- helminthiases

  • digestive helminthiasis