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Parasitic Worm Species Thrives in the Global Temperature Increase
Pennsylvania Ag Connection - 04/01/2024

Parasitic worms, specifically helminths, have been an issue for farmers and ranchers for several years as a major cause of death in livestock. As well as wreaking havoc and both wild and captive animals, they also affect humans. The helminth group of parasites are responsible for diseases including ascariasis and hookworm, affecting up to 25% of the worldwide population.

Many of these people are asymptomatic, but those with symptoms experience gastrointestinal issues and in severe cases, a decline of physical and mental growth. These types of infections come specifically from soil-borne helminths, and infection normally comes from contaminated food.

A study done internationally led by Penn State University Park sought to figure out how the environment was affecting these creatures. As there are more dangerous diseases out there, the helminths have been under-studied. The researchers, led by Isabella Cattadori, divided these helminths into two groups: those who live in the stomachs of their hosts, and those who live in the intestines.

They then tested to see how they survived in different temperatures and humidity conditions, and cross-referenced these with predicted weather conditions in the next forty years.

The results varied based on the species of the parasite, but overall the helminths were found to have longer active seasons in humid and warmer conditions. The humidity is a new issue because the prior studies have not been accounting for the increase in humidity during global warming. The increase in temperature may cause the active season of helminths to shift to being earlier instead of peaking in the summer for the stomach group and having two peaks in the spring and summer for the intestinal group.

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