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Schistosomiasis, Other Worms a Danger to Children: Doctor

Worms can be dangerous to children, impeding their development. And in Cambodia, many children are afflicted, a US-based doctor said Thursday.

Among these worms, schistosomiasis has been found in two Cambodia’s provinces: Kratie and Stung Treng, where particular species of snails live, said Taing Tek Hong, a Florida physician, as a guest on “Hello VOA.”

Those snails form a part of the life cycle of schistosomiasis, which can have harmful effects on people.

When human urine or feces containing schistosome eggs enter the water, the eggs hatch and release larvae called miracidia, he said.

Miracidia search in the water for a particular species of snail. When they find it, they enter the snail and multiply, then re-enter the water, looking for a new host. They penetrate human skin and enter the blood, travel to the liver, and grow into worms, he said.

From there, the worms travel through the blood, producing eggs in the intestine or bladder that then pass back into water and start the cycle again.

During that cycle, they can cause bloody feces and urine, damage organs and lead to intestine damage, liver disease or bladder cancer, Taing Tek Hong said.

Perhaps 30 percent of people living in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces are affected by schistosomiasis, he said.

It requires the snail as part of its life cycle, he said, and can't be passed from human to human.

Meanwhile, the government has undertaken a deworming program since 2002, covering 75 percent of the nation's schools—or about 3 million children. That has had a positive effect for the children and should be continued, he said.

The medicine used for ascaris and hookworm is called mebendazole, and under the brand name Vermox is administered twice a year to children by their teachers. Schistosomiasis is treated with praziquantel once a year in Kratie and Stung Treng, he said.

Still, about 85 percent of Cambodian children have worms. Deworming is therefore important because worms can hurt the educational development of a child. With deworming tablets costing only about $0.03 each, the program is worth it, he said.