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OpenStax Microbiology

Strongyloidiasis is generally caused by Strongyloides stercoralis, a soil-transmitted helminth with both free-living and parasitic forms. In the parasitic form, the larvae of these nematodes generally penetrate the body through the skin, especially through bare feet, although transmission through organ transplantation or at facilities like day-care centers can also occur. When excreted in the stool, larvae can become free-living adults rather than developing into the parasitic form. These free-living worms reproduce, laying eggs that hatch into larvae that can develop into the parasitic form. In the parasitic life cycle, infective larvae enter the skin, generally through the feet. The larvae reach the circulatory system, which allows them to travel to the alveolar spaces of the lungs. They are transported to the pharynx where, like many other helminths, the infected patient coughs them up and swallows them again so that they return to the intestine. Once they reach the intestine, females live in the epithelium and produce eggs that develop asexually, unlike the free-living forms, which use sexual reproduction. The larvae may be excreted in the stool or can reinfect the host by entering the tissue of the intestines and skin around the anus, which can lead to chronic infections.

The condition is generally asymptomatic, although severe symptoms can develop after treatment with corticosteroids for asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or following other forms of immunosuppression. When the immune system is suppressed, the rate of autoinfection increases, and huge amounts of larvae migrate to organs throughout the body.

Signs and symptoms are generally nonspecific. The condition can cause a rash at the site of skin entry, cough (dry or with blood), fever, nausea, difficulty breathing, bloating, pain, heartburn, and, rarely, arthritis, or cardiac or kidney complications. Disseminated strongyloidiasis or hyperinfection is a life-threatening form of the disease that can occur, usually following immunosuppression such as that caused by glucocorticoid treatment (most commonly), with other immunosuppressive medications, with HIV infection, or with malnutrition.

As with other helminths, direct examination of the stool is important in diagnosis. Ideally, this should be continued over seven days. Serological testing, including antigen testing, is also available. These can be limited by cross-reactions with other similar parasites and by the inability to distinguish current from resolved infection. Ivermectin is the preferred treatment, with albendazole as a secondary option.


Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: