By Maria Joby F. Zulueta, RN
Soil-transmitted Helminthiasis (STH) or intestinal parasitism is an infection or disease caused by soil-transmitted helminths. The three most common types are roundworm, hookworm and whipworm. These worms can enter the body through mouth by ingesting contaminated food or water and eating undercooked meat from contaminated animals, or through skin by direct contact with contaminated soil. Generally, everybody can be infected with STH. But the most vulnerable sector of the population is children aged 2 – 14 years. Children 2 – 5 years old have lesser prevalence but suffer the greatest morbidity when infected. While 6 – 14 years old harbor the greatest load of infection and are the significant source of transmission. Other factors like geographic location, socio-economic status and culture also contributes to the distribution of soil-transmitted helminthes. Both developed and developing countries has these parasites. But it has preference for rural areas and poor slum sections of towns and cities. It thrives in areas where there is poverty, ignorance and lack of sanitation. Also, the use of night soil as fertilizer is considered the main source of infection in some agricultural areas and may lead to hyperendemicity of STH, and Pica or earth-eating which may lead to ingestion of large amounts of helminth eggs. When infected with these, the most common signs and symptoms include abdominal pain and enlargement, anemia, weight loss, malnutrition, and loss of appetite. This in turn causes school absenteeism, poor learning ability, and poor school performance. In some cases, worm infections can lead to retarded development and even death of children who are malnourished and have recurrent infections.
Although it is a serious problem, the good news is that there are ways to prevent worm infections, infections can easily be detected and diagnosed, and treatment is available. Here at DepED – Balanga City, we are keen in promoting proper hygiene practices at schools, from proper handwashing to proper environmental sanitation especially of school canteen where foods are being processed, comfort rooms and water supply. It may be cliché to say but, I personally believe that prevention is way better than cure. As advocates, our mission is to help instill values to school children with regards to proper health practices during their formative years. We further believe that if they continuously practice them at school, they may carry it on to their home and pass it on to other family members. We help children to understand how these parasites can enter their body and steal their nutrients, usually emphasizing the single most important way of preventing the spread of germs is through hand washing as WHO suggests. It is one of the most important healthy habits that children should learn. It washes away worms’ eggs that might be present in children’s hands and fingers. It also prevents contamination of food and water. Instructions and guidelines on food handling and safety were also provided for canteen helpers. The implementation of Bi-Annual Mass Deworming has also been a blessing to this division as it effectively kills worms inside the body especially when consistently taken every six months.
Putting it all together, ensuring that the school environment supports every healthy campaign is highly important… from funding the construction of proper facilities for handwashing, toilets and well-ventilated school canteen, to ensuring accessibility and potability of water supply, to implementation of healthy policies inside the school. We should all remember that change in the behavior can better be maintained if the environment is supportive of these changes. Our children should have a proper mind-set that being worm-free means they will grow up strong, lively and healthy. We should encourage our children to develop healthy habits like proper hygiene, keeping food and water safe and clean, and proper use of toilets. As the WHO promotes, our children should be developed towards healthy ways, and on his own he will say, “I want to be healthy, lively and worm-free.”
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