Also known as soil-transmitted helminths, so-called hookworms and whipworms are considered major contributors to the global burden of disease; however, standard treatments of Albendazole and Mebendazole have been effective in nearly wiping out worm infections around the United States. A study financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and the Medicor Foundation has revealed a veterinary deworming drug could be the answer to ending worm infections among people in underdeveloped countries.

What is a worm infection?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around two billion people around the world have been infected with soil-transmitted helminths, making these infections the most common worldwide. Worm infections are transmitted by eggs that show up in human feces and get stuck in the soil of areas with poor sanitation. Health care professionals hope that by regularly testing around 75 percent of children in underdeveloped countries we can eliminate deaths related to worm infections by 2020.

In treating the global burden of worm infections, the WHO recommends periodic treatment of at-risk people living in developing countries, especially preschool and school-aged children. More than 300 million preschool-aged and school-aged children in developing countries had access to anthelminthic medicines such as Albendazole and Mebendazole in 2011. Unfortunately, this only represents 30 percent of children at risk, meaning a more effective treatment that can be distributed worldwide is prudent.

Veterinary treatment for worm infections?

"We remembered that there was an effective deworming drug used in veterinary medicine," lead researcher Jennifer Keiser, from the Tropical and Public Health Institute, said in a statement. "Health experts in the field of worm infections have been discussing its use for some years now. The problem was the availability of the active ingredient as a single sub-stance."

Keiser and her colleagues from the institute conducted randomized double-blind trials on school children from the East African island Pemba, Tanzania, who developed a worm infection. Researchers tested the standard treatment of Albendazole for worm infections against the veterinary treatment of “Oxantel Pamoate.” Currently, Oxantel Pamoate is not commercially available or approved for use in human clinical trials, but the research team hopes this study will open the eyes of veterinary medicine manufacturers.

After receiving one treatment of Oxantel Pamoate combined with the standard treatment of Albendazole, 31 percent of the children involved with this study were free of worm infections. Stool samples provided by the children in this study also revealed that the number of parasites in each child’s system decreased by a staggering 96 percent. Results of this study were on par with a similar study conducted back in the 1970s when Oxantel Pamoate was first developed. The 1970s study determined the veterinary treatment to be a safe and effective way of treating whipworm infections, which are notably resistant to Albendazole and Mebendazole.

Source: Speich B, Ame SM, Keiser J. Oxantel Pamoate-Albendazole for Trichuris trichiura Infection. N Engl J Med. 2014.