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Classification and external resources
ICD-10 B83.1
ICD-9-CM 128.1
DiseasesDB 31667
eMedicine ped/877
MeSH D006039

Gnathostomiasis (also known as larva migrans profundus[1]:436) is the human infection by the nematode (roundworm) Gnathostoma spinigerum and/or Gnathostoma hispidum, which infects vertebrates.


  • Synonyms 1
  • Background 2
  • Causes 3
  • Transmission 4
  • Host 5
    • Intermediate host 5.1
    • Definitive host 5.2
  • Vector 6
  • Incubation period 7
  • Morphology 8
  • Life cycle 9
    • Life cycle in definitive hosts 9.1
    • Life cycle in humans 9.2
  • Symptoms 10
  • Diagnosis 11
  • Treatment 12
  • Epidemiology 13
  • Public health and prevention strategies 14
  • See also 15
  • References 16
  • External links 17


The following are commonly used terms when referring to gnathostomiasis[2]

  • Gnathostoma
  • Larva migrans profundus
  • Nodular migratory eosinophilic panniculitis
  • Physaloptera
  • Spiruroid larva migrans
  • Wandering swelling
  • Yangtze edema


The first case of Gnathostoma was identified by Sir Richard Owen when inspecting the stomach of a young tiger that had died at London Zoo from a ruptured aorta.[3] However it was not until 1889 that the first human case was described by Levison when he found the gnathostoma larva in an infested Thai woman.[4] This delay in identification of the parasite in humans is due to the fact that humans are not a definitive host for this parasite making infection from this parasite rare. Gnathostomiasis infection is rare because the parasite must be digested when it has reached its third larvae stage, providing only a short time frame in which the parasite is capable of infecting humans. It is uncommon for the larvae to penetrate the skin of individuals exposed to contaminated food or water without ingestion.[5]


Human gnathostomiasis is infection by the migrating third-stage larvae of any of five species of Gnathostoma, which is type of worm (more specifically a type of nematode). The most common cause in Asia is G. spinigerum, and the most common cause in the Americas is G. binucleatum. Three other species, G. hispidium, G. doloresi, and G. nipponicum are found only in Japan.[6][7] There is one unconfirmed report of G. malaysiae causing disease in humans.[8]


Life-cycle of Gnathostoma

Gnathostomiasis is transmitted by the ingestion of raw, insufficiently cooked definitive hosts such as fresh water fish, poultry, or frogs.

In Thailand and Vietnam, the most common cause appears to be consumption of undercooked Asian swamp eels (Monopterus albus, also called Fluta alba) which transmit G. spinigerum.[9][10][11][12] Monopterus albus is an invasive species in North America, but no Gnathostoma has yet been identified in the US.[13]


Intermediate host

The primary intermediate host is the minute crustaceans of the genus Cyclops.[5] These crustaceans are then ingested by a second intermediate host, such as frogs.

Definitive host

The definitive hosts for gnathostomiasis include cats, dogs, tigers, leopards, lions, mink, opossums, raccoons, poultry, frogs, freshwater fish, snakes or birds.[2]


There is no vector for the parasite gnathostomiasis.[2]

Incubation period

The incubation period for gnathostomiasis is 3–4 weeks when the larvae begin to migrate through the subcutaneous tissue of the body.[14]


The adult parasite is reddish-brown in color and has a globular cephalic dome that is separated from the rest of the body by constriction.[14] The posterior portion of the nematode is smooth while the anterior half is covered with fine leaf-like spines.[14] The head is round and contains 4 to 8 transverse rows of hooklets that are protected by a pair of fleshy lips . The males are shorter than the females, 11–25 mm (0.43–0.98 in) compared to 25–54 mm (0.98–2.13 in) respectively.[14] Eggs are oval and have a mucoid plug at one end.[14]

Life cycle

Life cycle in definitive hosts

Adult worms are found in a tumor located in the gastric wall of the definitive hosts and release eggs into the host’s digestive tract. The eggs are then released with feces and in about a week hatch in water to develop into first stage larva.[15] Larvae are then ingested by minute copepods of the genus Cyclops.[16] Once entering the copepod, the larvae penetrate the gastric wall of their intermediate host and begin to develop into second-stage and even early third-stage larvae.[15] The copepods are then ingested by a second intermediate host such as fish, frogs, or snakes.[17] Within this second intermediate or definitive host the larva repeat a similar pattern of penetrating the gastric wall, but then continue to migrate to muscular tissue and develop into advanced third-stage larvae.[15] These larvae then encyst within the musculature of the new host.[18] If the cyst containing flesh of these hosts is ingested by a definitive host, such as dogs, and cats, the cysts are ingested and the larvae escape the cysts and penetrate the gastric wall.[15] These released larvae travel to the connective tissue and muscle as observed before and after 4 weeks they return to the gastric wall as adults.[15] Here they form a tumor and continue to mature into adults for the next 6–8 months.[17] Worms mate and females begin to excrete fertilized eggs with feces 8–12 months after ingestion of cysts.[5]

Life cycle in humans

Infection of humans by gnathostomiasis is accidental because humans are not one of the definitive hosts of the parasite and do not allow the parasite to complete its life cycle. Infection in humans follows ingestion of raw, insufficiently cooked infected intermediate hosts.[5] The ingested third stage larva migrates from the gastric wall and its migration results in the symptoms associated with infection by gnathostomiasis.[17] The third stage larvae don't return to the gastric wall preventing it from maturing into adult worms, leaving the life cycle incomplete. Instead the larvae continue to migrate unpredictably unable to develop into adults, so eggs are seldom found in diagnostic tests.[2] This also means the number of worms present in humans is a reflection of the number of third stage larvae ingested.


A few days after ingestion epigastric pain, fever, vomiting, and loss of appetite resulting from migration of larvae through intestinal wall to the abdominal cavity will appear in the patient.[17] Migration in the subcutaneous tissues (under the skin) causes intermittent, migratory, painful, pruritic swellings (cutaneous larva migrans). Patches of edema appear after the above symptoms clear and are usually found on the abdomen.[17] These lesions vary in size and can be accompanied by pruritus, rash, and stabbing pain. Swellings may last for 1 to 4 weeks in a given area and then reappear in a different location.[17] Migration to other tissues (visceral larva migrans), can result in cough, hematuria, ocular (eye) involvement,[19] meningitis, encephalitis and eosinophilia. Eosinophilic myeloencephalitis may also result from invasion of the central nervous system by the larvae.[2]


Diagnosis of gnathostomiasis is possible (with microscopy) after removal of the worm. The primary form of diagnosis of gnathostomiasis is the identification of larva in the tissue.[2] Serological testing such as enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) or the Western blot are also reliable but may not be easily accessible in endemic areas.[2]

CT scanning or MRI can be used to help identify a soft tissue worm and when looking at CNS disease it can be used to reveal the presence of the worm.[17] The presence of haemorrhagic tracks on gradient-echo T2-weighted MRI is characteristic and possibly diagnostic.[6] Urinalysis can also be used to identify the presence of hematuria or the worm, but it is not a very reliable diagnostic tool.


Surgical removal or treatment with albendazole or ivermectin is recommended. The most prescribed treatment for gnathostomiasis is surgical removal of the larvae but this is only effective when the worms are located in an accessible location.[2] In addition to surgical excision, albendazole and ivermectin have been noted in their ability to eliminate the parasite.[17] Albendazole is recommended to be administered at 400 mg daily for 21 days as an adjunct to surgical excision, while ivermectin is better tolerated as a single dose.[2] Ivermectin can also serve as a replacement for those that can’t handle albendazole 200 ug/kg p.o. as a single dose.[2] However, ivermectin has been shown to be less effective then albendazole.


Endemic areas include Asia, Mexico, India and parts of South Africa.[17] Originally believed to be confined to Asia, in the 1970s gnathostomiasis was discovered in Mexico,[17] and found in Australia in 2011.[20][21] Even though it is endemic in areas of Southeast Asia and Latin America, it is an uncommon disease. However, researchers have noticed recently an increase in incidence. This disease is most common in both Thailand and Japan, but in Thailand it is responsible for most of the observed parasitic CNS infection.[5] It has long been recognised in China, but reports have only recently appeared in the English literature.[22]

Public health and prevention strategies

The best strategies for preventing accidental infection of humans is to educate those living in endemic areas to only consume fully cooked meat. The inability of the parasite to complete its life cycle within humans means that transmission can easily be contained by adequate preparation of meat from intermediate hosts. This is especially useful because of the difficulty and lack of feasibility inherent in eliminating all intermediate hosts of gnathostomiasis. So instead, individuals in endemic areas should avoid eating raw and undercooked meat in endemic areas, but this may be difficult in these areas. This is due to preference for dishes containing raw fish in these endemic areas.

The dish ceviche is native to Peru and a favorite of Mexico. It consists of onion, cubed fish, lime or lemon juice and Andean spices including salt and chili. The ingredients are mixed together and they are allowed to marinate several hours before being served at room temperature. Then in endemic areas in Southeast Asia there are traditional dishes associated with these areas that also include raw uncooked fish, such as koipla in Thailand, goi ca song in Vietnam, sashimi and sushi in Japan.[15]

Acknowledging these cultural traditions, individuals in these cultural can be educated on methods of adapting their food preparation activities in order to remove the larvae without greatly altering these traditional dishes. For instance, meat should be marinated in vinegar for six hours or in soy sauce for 12 hours in order to successfully kill the larvae. In areas with reliable electricity, meat can be frozen at -20 degrees Celsius for 3–5 days to achieve the same results of killing the larvae present.[5]

See also


  1. ^ William D. James, Timothy G. Berger & Dirk M. Elston (2006). Andrews' Diseases of the Skin: Clinical Dermatology (10th ed.). Saunders Elsevier.  
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Gideon; Gnathostomiasis
  3. ^ Yangtse Oedema (Gnathostomiasis) Patient UK
  4. ^ Valai Bussaratid, Srivicha Krudsood, Udomsak Silachamroon & Sornchai Looareesuwan (2005). "Tolerability of ivermectin in gnathostomiasis" ( 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Robert W. Tolan, Jr. (January 2009). "Gnathostomiasis".  
  6. ^ a b Katchanov J, Sawanyawisuth K, Chotmongkol V, Nawa Y (2011). "Neurognathostomiasis, a neglected parasitosis of the central nervous system". Emerging Infectious Diseases CME 17 (7): 1174–1180.  
  7. ^ Herman JS, Chiodini PL (2009). "Gnathostomiasis, another emerging imported disease". Clin Microbiol Rev 22 (3): 484–92.  
  8. ^ Nomura Y, Nagakura K, Kagei N, Tsutsumi Y, Araki K, Sugawara M. (2000). "Gnathostomiasis possibly caused by Gnathostoma malaysiae". Tokai J Exp Clin Med 25 (1): 1–6.  
  9. ^ Setasuban P, Nuamtanong S, Rojanakittikoon V, Yaemput S, Dekumyoy P, Akahane H, Kojima S. (1991). "Gnathostomiasis in Thailand: a survey on intermediate hosts of Gnathostoma spp. with special reference to a new type of larvae found in Fluta alba". Southeast Asian J Trop Med Public Health. 22 Suppl: 220–4.  
  10. ^ Akahane H, Setasuban P, Nuamtanong S, Horiuchi S, Koga M, Kojima S (1995). "A new type of advanced third-stage larvae of the genus Gnathostoma in freshwater eels, Fluta alba, from Nakhon Nayok, central Thailand". Southeast Asian J Trop Med Public Health 26 (4): 743–7.  
  11. ^ Saksirisampant W, Kulkaew K, Nuchprayoon S, Yentakham S, Wiwanitkit V (Mar 2002). "A survey of the infective larvae of Gnathostoma spinigerum in swamp eels bought in a local market in Bangkok, Thailand". Ann Trop Med Parasitol 96 (2): 191–5.  
  12. ^ Sieu TP, Dung TT, Nga NT, Hien TV, Dalsgaard A, Waikagul J, Murrell KD (Feb 2009). "Prevalence of Gnathostoma spinigerum infection in wild and cultured swamp eels in Vietnam". J Parasitol 95 (1): 246–8.  
  13. ^ Nico LG, Paul Sharp P, Collins TM (2011). "Imported Asian swamp eels (Synbranchidae: Monopterus) in North American live food markets: potential vectors of non-native parasites". Aquatic Invasions 6 (1): 69–76.  
  14. ^ a b c d e G. N. Seal, A. K. Gupta & M. K. Das (1969). "Intra-ocular gnathostomiasis".  
  15. ^ a b c d e f K. Darwin Murrell & Bernard Fried (2007). Food-Borne Parasitic Zoonoses, Fish and Plant-Borne Parasites. World Class Parasites 11.  
  16. ^ CDC Life Cycle of Gnathostomiasis
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j David T. John & William A. Petri (2006). "The blood- and tissue-dwelling nematodes". Markell and Voge's Medical Parasitology (9th ed.).  
  18. ^ Rebecca A. Cockman-Thomas, Curtis A. Colleton, Chris H. Gardiner & Wayne M. Meyers (1993). "Gnathostomiasis in a wild-caught nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus)".  
  19. ^ P. Barua, N. K. Hazarika, N. Barua, C. K. Barua & B. Choudhury (2007). "Gnathostomiasis of the anterior chamber".  
  20. ^ Cameron J Jeremiah, Chanad S Harangozo & Andrew J Fuller (2011). "Gnathostomiasis in remote northern Western Australia: the first confirmed cases acquired in Australia".  
  21. ^ "Couple eaten alive by tiny worms".  
  22. ^ Dong Ming Li, Xue Rong Chen, Jing Song Zhou, Zhi Biao Xu, Yukifumi Nawa & Paron Dekumyoy (2009). "Short report: case of gnathostomiasis in Beijing, China" ( 

External links

  • Gnathostomiasis at CDC
  • Gnathostomiasis at eMedicine
  • Endemic Areas at Google Maps
  • J. Tseng (2003). "Gnathostoma spinigerum".  
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