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Open Access Research article

Recall of intestinal helminthiasis by HIV-infected South Africans and avoidance of possible misinterpretation of egg excretion in worm/HIV co-infection analyses

Vera J Adams1, Miles B Markus2, Zilungile L Kwitshana3, Muhammad A Dhansay1, Lize van der Merwe4, Gerhard Walzl5 and John E Fincham1*

Author Affiliations

1 Nutritional Intervention Research Unit, P O Box 19070, Tygerberg 7505, South Africa

2 University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg 2050, South Africa

3 Nutritional Intervention Research Unit, P O Box 70380, Durban-Overport 4067, South Africa

4 Biostatistics Unit, Medical Research Council of South Africa, P O Box 19070, Tygerberg 7505, South Africa

5 Department of Medical Biochemistry, University of Stellenbosch, Tygerberg 7505, South Africa

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2006, 6:88  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-6-88

Published: 26 May 2006



Ascariasis and HIV/AIDS are often co-endemic under conditions of poverty in South Africa; and discordant immune responses to the respective infections could theoretically be affecting the epidemic of HIV/AIDS in various ways. It is well-known that sensitisation to helminthic antigens can aggravate or ameliorate several non-helminthic diseases and impair immunisation against cholera, tetanus and tuberculosis. The human genotype can influence immune responses to Ascaris strongly. With these factors in mind, we have started to document the extent of long-term exposure to Ascaris and other helminths in a community where HIV/AIDS is highly prevalent. In more advanced studies, objectives are to analyse relevant immunological variables (e.g. cytokine activity and immunoglobulin levels). We postulate that when Ascaris is hyperendemic, analysis of possible consequences of co-infection by HIV cannot be based primarily on excretion vs non-excretion of eggs.


Recall of worms seen in faeces was documented in relation to the age of adult volunteers who were either seropositive (n = 170) or seronegative (n = 65) for HIV. Reasons for HIV testing, deworming treatments used or not used, date and place of birth, and duration of residence in Cape Town, were recorded. Confidence intervals were calculated both for group percentages and the inter-group differences, and were used to make statistical comparisons.


In both groups, more than 70% of participants were aware of having passed worms, often both when a child and as an adult. Most of the descriptions fitted Ascaris. Evidence for significantly prolonged exposure to helminthic infection in HIV-positives was supported by more recall of deworming treatment in this group (p < 0.05). Over 90% of the participants had moved to the city from rural areas.


There was a long-term history of ascariasis (and probably other helminthic infections) in both of the groups that were studied. In women in the same community, and in children living where housing and sanitation are better, Ascaris sero-prevalence exceeded egg-prevalence by two- and three-fold, respectively. For ongoing and future analyses of possible consequences of co-infection by Ascaris (and/or other helminths) and HIV/AIDS (and/or other bystander conditions), comparisons must be based mainly on disease-related immunological variables. Especially in adults, comparisons cannot be based only on the presence or absence of eggs in excreta.