Prevalence of intestinal helminth infection in the present study was comparable with 44.05% prevalence in Kenya, 44.2% in Tilili and 48.4% in Jima zone [12, 20, 23]. Lower prevalences ranging from 24.7 to 39.9% were reported from three separate studies (Tepi, Bale, Chencha,) in Ethiopia [16, 21, 24]. Inclusion of non-enrolled children in the present study might increase the rate of infection because most of non-enrolled children were not dewormed in the previous three rounds of national deworming (unpublished data). Intestinal helminths are more prevalent in areas with hot and humid climate accompanied with poor sanitation. Both Chencha and Bale are highlands with very cold weather condition which delays the transmission of intestinal helminths.
The same study conducted in 2010/11 by Wogayehu et al. shows a prevalence of 39.9% in Arba Minch Zuria district . After 3 years of bi-annual deworming, we reported increased prevalence in the area (46.5%). Re-infection due to ineffective implementation of WASH and low deworming coverage for non-enrolled children could justify for the increased prevalence of intestinal helminths. Variations in data collection time (season) and sample size also influence magnitude of infection. Wogayehu et al. collected the data for 11 consecutive months (September to July) in order to avoid seasonal variations and the sample size was 858, which is more representative as compared to the present study .
Gawad et al. reported an intestinal parasite infection rate of 90% in Yemen . Higher prevalences of 64.4% and 84% were also reported in two separate studies by Abdulshafi et al... and Siddig et al. respectively from Sudan [10, 11]. In all the three studies, stool samples were processed for direct wet mount to detect intestinal protozoa; we couldn’t do this because we collected data house to house which makes difficult to prepare and examine direct wet mount smear immediately after stool collection.
Gawad et al. performed duplicate Kato Katz technique which increases the sensitivity of detecting helminth ova specially Schistosoma. Findings by Nasiru et al also reveal higher prevalence of intestinal parasitosis (63.49%) from Nigeria . Inter-country variations in distribution of intestinal parasites and sample size plus method of detection might bring such differences (Table 1).
Higher prevalences of 65.5% to 72.2% were reported in separate studies from Bahir Dar, Maksegnit and Enfranz, Hawassa, Zege and Wolyta [13,14,15, 18, 19]. Variation in spatial distribution of intestinal helminths, number of study participants recruited and the laboratory techniques applied brought this difference. Moreover, data for the previous studies conducted in Ethiopia were collected before or early after the national deworming program (2015) was implemented in the country [13, 14, 18, 19].
Ascaris lumbricoides was the most frequent intestinal helminth detected. This is in line with the global data denoting that A. lumbricoides is the most prevalent helminth in the world with 819 million cases annually . The same is true in the Ethiopian context as supported by previous studies from different parts of the country [16,17,18, 20, 23]. S. mansoni causes the most common helminthic infection according to studies from Gondar and Wolayta, Ethiopia likely due to variation in geographical distribution of S. mansoni [15, 19].
Among all study participants, 24 (6.1%) acquired two parasites or more. This is much lower as compared to previous findings from Ethiopia. Results from Bahir Dar, Zegie and Hawassa reveal 16.2%, 25% and 25.7% of the study participants were infected at least with two intestinal parasites respectively [13, 14, 18]. The fact that we didn’t detect intestinal protozoa by direct wet mount examination of fresh stool lowers the co-infection rate in the present study. The difference in prevalence of multiple parasitic infections at a time might be varied in relation to level of environmental contamination, level of awareness about parasitic infection and socioeconomic factors .
The present study showed that not washing fruits and vegetables before consumption and habit of swimming were strongly associated with the presence of intestinal parasitic infections. Intestinal helminths, whose ova are infective stages, are acquired by ingestion with contaminated food and water as well as oral contact with hands. Except for hookworm and schistosomiasis which penetrates the skin directly, fruits and vegetables eaten in raw are common sources of infection. Hence, SAC who eat fruits and vegetables without washing were 2 times at higher risk of being infected with intestinal parasites as compared to those who washed fruits and vegetables before consumption. Parasitic contamination rates ranging from 22.22 to 57.8% of fruits and vegetables sold at local markets and at pre-harvest phase have been reported in Ethiopia [30,31,32]. The present study is in agreement with previous results in Ethiopia .
The infective cercaria of schistosoma parasites develop in fresh water dwelling snails. Hence frequent contact with contaminated water poses risk of acquiring schistosomiasis. SAC who frequently swim in rivers and lakes were 1.17 times at higher risk of being infected with intestinal parasites compared to SAC having no habit of swimming. Begna et al. also reported similar finding from Eastern Ethopia that water contact activities predispose for intestinal parasitosis . Hook worms easily infect people who walk barefoot. Hence previous studies show that shoe wearing habit is associated with hook worm infection [13, 23, 24]; but in the present study, the association was not significant. Frequent contact with soil despite shoe wearing and other confounding factors might alter the trend. In previous studies water source, habit of hand washing after toilet and before meal, gender, availability and utilization of latrine were found to be associated with intestinal parasitosis [13, 15, 18, 20, 23, 24]. However, all these factors were not associated with intestinal parasitosis in the present study. Hence, large scale study recruiting more number of participants is required in order to drive definitive conclusion.