Geophagy As A Risk Factor For Helminth Infections In Pregnant Women In Lusaka, Zambia

  • CJ Shinondo
  • G Mwikuma


It has been reported that geophagy is closely associated with helminthic diseases (1, 2, 3) and it has been especially linked to Ascaris and Trichuris infections among pregnant women (4). Hitherto proof of existence of viable infective ova in geophageal material has been anecdotal. This study was undertaken to determine the possible direct role of geophagy in helminthiases of pregnant women. Eighty-five pregnant women between the ages of 15 and 44 years of age were recruited into the study in order to determined the prevalence of geophagy among pregnant women resident in high a density and low income areas of Lusaka. The study showed that 31,8% of the pregnant women interviewed practised geophagy at the time of the study, and that 71% had a history of deliberate ingestion of soil. The preferences for the soil types were ranked as clay, termite mounds from tree trunks, and soft stone. Some respondents reported a preference for smoked, roasted or baked clay soils. Perceived benefits of geophagy included diminished craving when they ate soil ( 35.2% ), prevention of vomiting and nausea ( 32.4% ), and others ingested soil for the taste (32.4% ). Most women who were interviewed (91.8%) were aware of possible health risks involved in geophagy such as constipation, heartburn, anemia, coughing, infections with worms, and abdominal discomfort. This study sought to recover and identify helminth ova from a total 3.15Kg. Submitted or collected soil types ingested by the women in the study. No ova was recovered from the soil samples by both the sedimentation and Zinc Sulphate, as well as saturated sodium chloride floatation techniques. These techniques reliably yielded Ascaris, Schistosome, and hookworm ova and Strongyloides larvae in spiked control specimens. Notably, Ascaris lumbricoides, and Trichuris trichiura ova require moisture to survive and embryonate. The soils ingested by the respondents were dried, some of which are roasted, backed or smoked before ingestion and thus rendering them unsuitable for the survival of ova, let alone the support of embryonated ova which are the infectious stages. This study has demonstrated that no ova were recovered from any of the soil types preferred by the pregnant women, and as such geophagy was an unlikely risk factor for geohelminth infections. Other explanations for the high helminth infection rates among pregnant women recorded in the literature must be sought, such as pica, poor hygiene, and unsanitary environments.

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