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Human infections caused by cestodes, or tapeworms, may occur within the lumen of the bowel, where adult cestodes attach themselves to the host intestine (Box 1). Alternatively, human infection may be the result of dissemination of cestodes from the bowel to involve extraintestinal sites, often by larval forms of the parasite. The life cycle of cestodes is determined by definitive hosts, in whom the mature adult worm lives, and intermediate hosts, which harbor the larval forms of the parasite. Humans are a definitive host for six cestodes: Diphyllobothrium latum, Taenia solium, Taenia saginata, Hymenolepis diminuta, Hymenolepis nana, and Dipylidium caninum.

Echinococcal Infection

The normal life cycle of Echinococcus species does not involve humans. Human disease occurs when humans become an accidental intermediate host for the parasite, and tissue invasion is followed by the formation of cysts (hydatid cysts).


Nematodes (roundworms) are nonsegmented, tapered, bilaterally symmetrical, cylindrical organisms that have complete digestive tracts and reproduce sexually. Although > 500,000 species of nematodes have been described, only a small number are commonly encountered as human parasites. Most nematodes have complex life cycles, sometimes involving several larval forms and intermediate hosts or free-living stages. The pathogenic nematodes may be categorized as primarily intestinal or extraintestinal tissue parasites (Box 1).

Albendazole: Observational and Comparative studies

Albendazole has been used in the treatment of human hookworm and trichuriasis. In a mass-treatment report from Western Australia 295 individuals in a remote rural area were treated with albendazole 400 mg/day for 5 days because of possible Giardia lamblia and hookworm infections. The 37% prevalence of Giardia fell to 12% between days 6 and 9, but rose again to 28% between days 18 and 30. The effect on hookworms (Ankylostoma duodenale) was more pronounced and more sustained with a reduction of the pretreatment prevalence of hookworm infections from 76% before treatment to 0% after 3^1 weeks.

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Mebendazole, a benzimidazole, is poorly absorbed from the gut, although it dependably enters cyst fluid; it is therefore most useful for treating intestinal infections and cyst-forming infestations. It is essentially an antihelminthic drug, being effective against hookworm, ascariasis, enterobiasis, and trichuriasis. Mebendazole is effective against enteric Strongyloides but since it is not absorbed it is ineffective against tissue forms. However, it is also effective against Giardia lamblia, while Trichomonas vaginalis is susceptible in vitro.

Mebendazole: Organs and Systems

A 52-year-old man with ascariasis took two 3-day cycles of mebendazole 100 mg bd with a 2-week interval. Within 48 hours of the second course he developed fever (39°C), diarrhea, anorexia, and prostration. Ten days later he had tender hepatomegaly.

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For amebiasis there is still discussion about the use of a single high dose versus repeated lower doses, both as regards efficacy and adverse effects. The use of metronidazole against infections with anerobic bacteria has increased over the years, and with this indication the use of metronidazole in combination with many other drugs used by patients with conditions likely to develop secondary anaerobic bacterial infections. With increased use there is also a widespread and increasing incidence of resistance of various strains of bacteria. The use of metronidazole as an added medication merely “to make assurance double sure” is to be discouraged.

Parasitic Infections

Most infectious agents fulfill the definition of a parasite: an organism that grows, feeds, and shelters on or in a different organism and contributes nothing to the host. However, medical science has created the classification “parasite” to include a complex group of nonfungal eukaryotic human pathogens. Unlike fungi, parasites have no cell wall and are often motile.

Intestinal Helminths

Infections are often asymptomatic. In the immuno-compromised host, Strongyloides can progress to a fatal hyperinfection syndrome. Helminths include the roundworms (nematodes), flukes (trematodes), and tapeworms (cestodes). These parasites are large, ranging in size from 1 cm to 10 m, and they often live in the human gastrointestinal tract without causing symptoms.