OBJECTIVE: To investigate whether increased knowledge and use of public health measures promoted for cholera prevention is reflected in lower prevalence of parasitic infection in households in a community in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico, that is close to the border with the United States of America. METHODS: Between 1994 and 1997, fecal samples from 438 children were collected through convenience sampling and then examined for helminth eggs/larvae and protozoan cysts as biologic indicators of household compliance with recommended cholera prevention measures. The suggested measures were to wash hands before meals and after defecation, to drink purified water, to wash fruits and vegetables, and to eat well-cooked food. In addition, information on the knowledge of and the use of cholera preventive measures was collected by interviews with adult informants in 252 households (186 of those households also provided a fecal sample for analysis). RESULTS: Parasitic infections occurred in 131 of the 438 children (30%), who resided in 79 of the 186 households (42%) that provided fecal samples. Giardia lamblia accounted for 12.5% of all infections. Infections with Hymenolepis nana, Ascaris lumbricoides, Trichuris trichiura, Enterobius vermicularis, Ancylostoma/Necator, Strongyloides stercoralis, Entamoeba coli, Entamoeba hartmanni, Entamoeba histolytica, Endolimax nana, and Iodamoeba bütschlii were also noted. Infected children were older and more often had an infected sibling. Households with three or more children were also more likely to have an infected child. The primary caregivers in the households where at least one child had a parasitic infection were distinguished by their inability to list at least three cholera prevention measures from memory. CONCLUSIONS: The 42% household prevalence of parasitic infection was relatively high and indicates that some residents of this community may not have fully embraced the public health education efforts promoted for prevention of cholera. The occurrence of nonpathogenic protozoan parasites such as Endolimax nana, Entamoeba coli, Entamoeba hartmanni, and I. bütschlii are important bioindicators for the persistence of unhygienic behaviors that increase the risk of cholera and other infectious diseases dependent on fecal-oral transmission. Information obtained by similar studies can be useful for monitoring compliance with community health and hygiene programs and may indicate the need to intensify educational efforts for the prevention of diarrhea associated with enteric pathogens that cannot be controlled by drugs alone.
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