The number of children suffering from intestinal worm infections could be dramatically reduced around the world by treating adults as well as children, based on the results of a new pilot study in Timor-Leste led by ANU.
Soil-transmitted helminths (STHs), including roundworm, hookworm and whipworm, infect about 1.5 billion people around the world, mainly children in poor countries, including those in Southeast Asia, the Pacific and Africa.
Researcher Dr Naomi Clarke from ANU said the new findings provided the first evidence from a field trial to support the hypothesis that a community-wide control program was more effective at reducing STH infections in children than a school-based program.
"The odds of intestinal worm infection more than halved among children in communities that were given a community-wide intervention, compared to the school-based intervention only," said Dr Clarke from the ANU Research School of Population Health.
Lead researcher Associate Professor Susana Vaz Nery said current guidelines on STH control prescribed the distribution of deworming drugs to children through school-based deworming programs.
"Children from the poorest communities suffer from consequences of infestations, such as poor growth and development, and chronic intestinal blood loss and anaemia in some cases," said Dr Vaz Nery, who conducted the study at the ANU Research School of Population Health.
"These worms infect some people in remote Indigenous communities in northern Australia, but these infections are not common across Australia."
Dr Clarke, Dr Vaz Nery and colleagues enrolled six communities in Timor-Leste in a pilot study. Three communities received only a school-based deworming and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) program, while three received an additional community-based deworming and WASH program.
Worm infections were measured in school-aged children at baseline and six months after deworming.
The results of the new study are published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases: http://journals.plos.org/plosntds/article?id=10.1371/journal.pntd.0006389
Dr Vaz Nery will conduct a large-scale trial in the Philippines to test these findings.