Schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminthiasis are important public health problems in sub-Saharan Africa causing malnutrition, anemia, and retardation of physical and cognitive development. However, the effect of these diseases on physical fitness remains to be determined.
We investigated the relationship between schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminthiasis and physical performance of children, controlling for potential confounding of Plasmodium spp. infections and environmental parameters (i.e., ambient air temperature and humidity). A cross-sectional survey was carried out among 156 school children aged 7–15 years from Côte d'Ivoire. Each child had two stool and two urine samples examined for helminth eggs by microscopy. Additionally, children underwent a clinical examination, were tested for Plasmodium spp. infection with a rapid diagnostic test, and performed a maximal multistage 20 m shuttle run test to assess their maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) as a proxy for physical fitness.
The prevalence of Schistosoma haematobium, Plasmodium spp., Schistosoma mansoni, hookworm and Ascaris lumbricoides infections was 85.3%, 71.2%, 53.8%, 13.5% and 1.3%, respectively. Children with single, dual, triple, quadruple and quintuple species infections showed VO2 max of 52.7, 53.1, 52.2, 52.6 and 55.6 ml kg−1 min−1, respectively. The VO2 max of children with no parasite infections was 53.5 ml kg−1 min−1. No statistically significant difference was detected between any groups. Multivariable analysis revealed that VO2 max was influenced by sex (reference: female, coef. = 4.02, p<0.001) and age (years, coef. = −1.23, p<0.001), but not by helminth infection and intensity, Plasmodium spp. infection, and environmental parameters.
School-aged children in Côte d'Ivoire showed good physical fitness, irrespective of their helminth infection status. Future studies on children's physical fitness in settings where helminthiasis and malaria co-exist should include pre- and post-intervention evaluations and the measurement of hemoglobin and hematocrit levels and nutritional parameters as potential co-factors to determine whether interventions further improve upon fitness.
The burden of parasitic worm infections is considerable, particularly in developing countries. It is acknowledged that parasitic worm infections negatively impact on children's school performance and physical development. A deeper understanding of these linkages is important for updating burden of disease measures. We investigated the relationship between worm infection status and physical fitness of 156 school children from Côte d'Ivoire and controlled for potential confounding of Plasmodium infection (the causative agent of malaria) and environmental parameters (temperature and humidity). Children were diagnosed for parasitic worm and Plasmodium infections, examined by a physician, and participated in a 20 m shuttle run test to assess their maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) as a proxy for physical fitness. Most of the children had parasitic worms and a Plasmodium infection. Nevertheless, their physical fitness was excellent (average VO2 max: 52.7 ml kg−1 min−1). The level of VO2 max was only influenced by sex and age, but not by parasitic worms and Plasmodium infections. In future studies, the dynamics of children's physical performance should be assessed before and after control interventions, including the assessment of blood hemoglobin, hematocrit, and nutritional indicators to determine whether physical fitness in worm- and Plasmodium-infected individuals can be further improved.