60-Second Science

Atlas Identifies Regions of Worm Infections

A new medical atlas, called This Wormy World, will document the best knowledge of the locations and varieties of parasitic worm infections, which should lead to better treatment allocation. Cynthia Graber reports

Shakespeare noted that a worm may eat a king, after that king is dead. Sadly, parasitic worms infect people who are still alive, especially kids. Public health advocates estimate that a third of the people on earth are infected with parasitic worms, called helminthes, particularly in poorer areas with inadequate sanitation.

Helminths harm health, but also interfere with nutrition and even academic advancement. So the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, with the Partnership for Child Development at Imperial College London, launched what’s called This Wormy World. It’s an atlas of the distribution and prevalence of helminth diseases, including roundworm, hookworm and whipworm. []

It’s often easy to control the parasites with cheap treatments. But resources get wasted because deworming programs are targeted at the wrong communities. The atlas should help the eradication fight by letting health officials know just where the problem areas are.

The scientists have been collecting data for the past decade. Their first map focuses on Africa, where worm infestations are worst. Maps for the rest of the world will be out by the end of 2010—providing a complete picture of this wormy world of ours. And a new tool to tackle it.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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