Killer parasitic worms which crawl through human skin are believed to be infecting more than half of Australians in some communities – and there are fears they could become untreatable.
Strongyloidiasis is a hyper-infection caused by worms, which is more common worldwide than malaria.
Symptoms include diarrhoea, coughing and severe rashes. Those who are infected with the parasite are likely to die.
Dr Kirstin Ross from Flinders University said the infection is impacting holidaymakers, indigenous communities and refugees, and is thriving in tropical parts of Australia including the Northern Territory and far-north Queensland.
‘The parasitic worm causes a form of hyper-infection which results in the generation of huge numbers inside the human host before moving out of your gut and tissue into other organs,’ she said.
She said people are often unaware that they have been infected by the worm.
The worm is believed to be prevalent in 80 per cent of indigenous communities but it may be even more common as it is difficult to detect.
‘The problem is we don’t always look for it and so people can be completely unaware. We also don’t understand what environmental conditions allow for its survival.
The worm tends to be seen in areas where septic or sewerage systems are not working very well or properly or at all.’
Researchers are worried the worm will become resistant to treatment.
‘At the moment we are relying on one or two drugs and unfortunately we have seen a couple of studies that have shown the disease is becoming resistant in animals, and it’s possible we could start seeing resistance in humans,’ co-researcher Dr Harriet Whiley said.
She said current efforts to treat the illness did not help develop immunity, meaning people could become re-infected.
Researchers want strongyloidiasis added to the Australian National Notifiable Disease List in order to make early detection easier.
If we had a better understanding of the distribution then the likelihood of increased screening and treatment definitely exists,’ Dr Ross said.
Daily Mail Australia