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World Health Stat Q. 1992;45(2-3):168-79.

Evaluating measures to control intestinal parasitic infections.

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  • 1WHO Collaborating Centre for the Epidemiology of Intestinal Parasitic Infections, Imperial College, London, United Kingdom.


Intestinal parasitic infections are among the most common infections of humans in developing countries, but the resources available for their control are severely limited. Careful evaluation of control measures is essential to ensure that they are cost-effective. The evaluation of the effects of control on intestinal helminths and intestinal protozoa requires an understanding of the different epidemiological patterns of these two groups of parasites. The transmission dynamics and morbidity associated with the major helminth infections (Ascaris lumbricoides, Trichuris trichiura and the hookworms) are dependent on the size of the worm burdens. Thus the important parameter for evaluating the impact of control on morbidity and transmission is the intensity of infection, which can be assessed by determining the mean density of parasite eggs in faecal specimens. Estimation of intensity is subject to systematic errors, however, due to the complex pattern of worm burden distributions. The frequency distribution of burdens is highly overdispersed, and individuals exhibit predisposition to particular levels of infection. Furthermore, mean intensity is age-dependent, in a species-specific manner, and is clustered spatially and within families. These complex patterns imply that the estimation of intensity is exceptionally sensitive to the size and demographic structure of the population sample selected for assessment. They also have the effect that prevalence estimates, the most commonly used measures of infection in communities, can seriously mislead. Paradoxically, prevalence is least useful where infection is most common because the relationship between prevalence and intensity is most markedly non-linear when the prevalence is high. Thus in areas where control is most needed, evaluation using prevalence might suggest that control had failed while evaluation by intensity would, correctly, show the measure of success. With the major protozoan infections (Entamoeba histolytica, Giardia duodenalis and Cryptosporidium parvum) an estimate of intensity is of little value and the central parameter for evaluation is prevalence. Prevalence does exhibit age and spatial heterogeneity, which may be species-specific, so there remains a need to ensure a consistent sample structure, although this is less critical than for the helminths. The major constraint on evaluating the control of protozoan infections is the need to identify pathogenic species and, in some cases, pathogenic strains. Harmless commensal protozoans are ubiquitous and often morphologically very similar to pathogens, but their control is both unnecessary and impracticable. Species such a E. histolytica appear to exist as strains with differing pathogenicity, thus control will be cost-effective only if the focus is on pathogenic strains. Effective diagnosis is therefore central to the evaluation of the control of protozoan infections.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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