A deadly parasitic worm species was found to infect about 12 percent of schoolchildren tested in Pursat province, according to a study published this month in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal.
Muth Sinuon, chief of administration responsible for parasitic worm control at the National Center for Parasitology, Entomology and Malaria Control (CNM), who helped conduct the study along with Korean researchers, said the echinostrome flukes found in Pursat children had never before been studied in-depth in Cambodia.
“It was a high prevalence, which we had never seen before,” Ms Sinuon said, noting that budget shortages held back further research into the distribution of the food-borne parasite.
Researchers are trying to conduct a follow-up study to find where raw snails, which transmit the parasite, were eaten, Ms Sinuon said, adding that microscopy could then confirm prevalence in those areas.
Children studied in 2007 near the Tonle Sap lake in Pursat often ate uncooked snails and clams on the road home from school, according to the study.
Echinostrome eggs were detected in fecal samples from 11.9 percent of children, and adult worms measuring on average 8.8 mm were recovered from 4 children, the research found.
A large amount of echinostromes in human intestines can lead to death by perforating the intestine wall or causing malnutrition and anemia, it said, adding that study of the disease, which is endemic in Asian countries including Cambodia, had been neglected for decades.
Epidemiological surveys published by the Health Ministry in 2004 found hookworms in children varied widely between schools, with 42 to 58 percent infected in Kratie province and 22 to 82 percent in Stung Treng province, said Hou Kroeun, program manager at NGO Helen Keller International.
“That is high, so Helen Keller and the school health department are really serious about [tackling] this,” he said, noting that the organization helped to add education on intestinal worms to the curriculum.