Helminth infection during pregnancy: insights from evolutionary ecology

Int J Womens Health. 2016 Nov 11;8:651-661. doi: 10.2147/IJWH.S103529. eCollection 2016.


Helminths are parasitic nematodes and trematodes, grouped together because of morphological similarities and commonalities in the effects infections have on hosts. These include complications such as anemia and biasing of immune responses, which can alter susceptibility for other diseases. For pregnant women, these complications might have implications for pregnancy outcomes or neonatal health. Here, I review studies of helminth infections during pregnancy, and ask the following questions: Do helminths affect maternal health or pregnancy outcomes? Are there consequences of maternal infection for infants? What are the effects of antihelminth treatment during pregnancy? The evidence suggests that the answers to these questions depend on the particular helminth species in question, maternal nutritional status, and the presence or absence of comorbid infection with other species, such as malaria. Moreover, there may also be unexpected consequences of treatment, as maternal infections can affect the priming of infant immune systems, with potential effects on infants later in life. These complex interactions suggest that a consideration of the evolutionary history of human-helminth interactions, as well as the ecological context of infections, can help to clarify an understanding of these host-parasite interactions and provide direction for future investigations.

Keywords: filariasis; helminths; pregnancy; review; schistosomiasis.

Publication types

  • Review