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Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Print version ISSN 0042-9686

Bull World Health Organ vol.80 n.4 Genebra Jan. 2002 

Books & Electronic Media

Perspectives on helminthology

Edited by N. Chowdury and I. Tada Published by Science Publishers Inc., Enfield (NH), USA. ISBN 1-57808-164-5, price £90, US$ 128

Veterinarians in high-income countries have long been engaged in controlling disease due to worm infections in livestock. These infections have a quantifiable economic impact and it makes good sense to spend money on cost-effective remedies such as the regular administration of modern anthelminthic drugs. No doubt veterinarians working in low-income countries would wish to see the same approach adopted. When we consider the extent of worm-induced disease in humans the problems and challenges seem to be more serious and more intractable because of the many demands on the health budgets of developing countries. Human helminthiasis thrives where poverty is entrenched. Who will pay for the drugs so urgently needed to reduce the burden of disease in millions of deprived people living in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and elsewhere? Who will cover the costs of providing the extensive health education, safe drinking-water and appropriate sanitation, the investment needed to sustain a largely worm-free world?

With these thoughts in mind, I noted with satisfaction that, in both the Dedication and the Preface of Perspectives on helminthology, the editors had focused on "the alleviation of suffering in both humans and animal (sic)". However, the 531 pages of text appear mainly to offer another compendium of existing knowledge; there was little to convince me that the publication of this book would advance our knowledge of how to implement helminth control. On the other hand, if much of the information is not readily available in some places, this volume will serve a useful purpose as a reference work for senior undergraduate and postgraduate students, especially in Asia, if the publisher can make it available there at an affordable price.

With my current interest, chapter 5, on the Epidemiology and Control of Helminthiasis of Humans, is the pick of the contributions. It deals directly with the latest science and explains how this knowledge can be used to underpin the strategic planning required to reduce morbidity in humans caused by worm infections. Chapter 17 is also intriguing because it sets out what we know about vaccine development. Affordable vaccination is a potential way of dealing with drug resistance, which is now widespread in the worms infecting animals, and may be on the verge of emerging in some of the worms infecting humans. This is not intended to imply that new drugs are no longer needed. Treatment for human schistosomiasis now depends largely on praziquantel, which has been found in experimental conditions to be ineffective against juvenile worms migrating through the tissues. Sufferers will be in serious difficulty if praziquantel- resistant worms arise under natural conditions. Incidentally, given the importance of praziquantel and the amount of interest there is in it, I was surprised not to be able to find any reference to it in the index.

There is a welcome blend of tropical and temperate parasitology in the book. Each of the other 15 chapters has its merits and provides a detailed, interesting and comprehensive review of some aspect of helminthology. These include a rather esoteric discourse on evolution and the origins of parasitism, a concise summary of helminth biochemistry, and a descriptive account of helminth ultrastructure. I wondered why the volume included 11 lines on the evolution of the Acanthocephala, based on two references, the most recent of which was published in 1967. Recent molecular evidence points to this group having phylogenetic affinities with rotifers. In any case, acanthocephalans have yet to pose a threat to the health of humans and livestock, especially when compared with schistosomes, filarial worms and other nematodes.

The standard of production of the book does not appear to do justice to the enthusiasm of the editors and the effort made by the contributors in researching and preparing their chapters. The quality of the reproduction of electron micrographs and the satellite (GIS) images is poor. The index states that bold type indicates pages with illustrations or tables. Not so in all cases; for example, chapter 5 contains 17 figures and five tables none of which can be identified in the index. Frankly, this index, subdivided according to chapter headings, did not work for me. Again in chapter 5, the authors discuss lymphatic filariasis from pages 205 to 210, but I could not find that section by reference to the index. There are spelling mistakes. "Helmintihiases", "contrortus", "generic (genetic?)", "namatode", "Nematospiruroides", "supernumery", "brasiliense", "heamonchosis" and "trichuria" stood out without my making any effort to find them.

Nevertheless, I am pleased to recommend this informative book to established and apprenticed helminthologists alike. Our subject will not grow unless we publish our knowledge and stimulate others to learn. Human suffering will not be relieved unless we share our knowledge and concerns with more young scientists. That sharing is the strength of this book.

D.W.T. Crompton1
1 WHO Collaborating Centre for Soil-transmitted Helminthiases, Graham Kerr Building, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, Scotland (email: