Intestinal parasitic infections represent a public health problem in Tajikistan, but epidemiological evidence is scarce. The present study aimed at assessing the extent of helminths and intestinal protozoa infections among children of 10 schools in four districts of Tajikistan, and to make recommendations for control.
A cross-sectional survey was carried out in early 2009. All children attending grades 2 and 3 (age: 7-11 years) from 10 randomly selected schools were invited to provide a stool sample and interviewed about sanitary situation and hygiene behaviour. A questionnaire pertaining to demographic and socioeconomic characteristics was addressed to the heads of households. On the spot, stool samples were subjected to duplicate Kato-Katz thick smear examination for helminth diagnosis. Additionally, 1-2 g of stool was fixed in sodium acetate-acetic acid-formalin, transferred to a specialised laboratory in Europe and examined for helminths and intestinal protozoa. The composite results from both methods served as diagnostic 'gold' standard.
Out of 623 registered children, 602 participated in our survey. The overall prevalence of infection with helminths and pathogenic intestinal protozoa was 32.0% and 47.1%, respectively. There was pronounced spatial heterogeneity. The most common helminth species was Hymenolepis nana (25.8%), whereas the prevalences of Ascaris lumbricoides, hookworm and Enterobius vermicularis were below 5%. The prevalence of pathogenic intestinal protozoa, namely Giardia intestinalis and Entamoeba histolytica/E. dispar was 26.4% and 25.9%, respectively. Almost half of the households draw drinking water from unimproved sources, such as irrigation canals, rivers and unprotected wells. Sanitary facilities were pit latrines, mostly private, and a few shared with neighbours. The use of public tap/standpipe as a source of drinking water emerged as a protective factor for G. intestinalis infection. Protected spring water reduced the risk of infection with E. histolytica/E. dispar and H. nana.
Our data obtained from the ecological 'lowland' areas in Tajikistan call for school-based deworming (recommended drugs: albendazole and metronidazole), combined with hygiene promotion and improved sanitation. Further investigations are needed to determine whether H. nana represents a public health problem.