Basic and Clinical Pharmacology, 13th Ed.

Clinical Pharmacology of the Antihelminthic Drugs

Philip J. Rosenthal, MD


A 29-year-old Peruvian man presents with the incidental finding of a 10 by 8 by 8 cm liver cyst on an abdominal computed tomography (CT) scan. The patient had noted 2 days of abdominal pain and fever, and his clinical evaluation and CT scan were consistent with appendicitis. His clinical findings resolved after laparoscopic appendectomy. Ten years ago, the patient immigrated to the United States from a rural area of Peru where his family trades in sheepskins. His father and sister have undergone resection of abdominal masses, but details of their diagnoses are unavailable. What is your differential diagnosis? What are your diagnostic and therapeutic plans?


Helminths (worms) are multicellular organisms that infect very large numbers of humans and cause a broad range of diseases. Over 1 billion people are infected with intestinal nematodes, and many millions are infected with filarial nematodes, flukes, and tapeworms. They are also a large problem in domestic animals. Many drugs, directed against a number of different targets, are available to treat helminthic infections. In many cases, especially in the developing world, the goal is control of infection, with elimination of most parasites, alleviating disease symptoms, and decreasing the transmission of infection. In other cases, complete elimination of parasites is the goal of therapy, although this goal can be challenging with certain helminthic infections, because of both limited efficacy of drugs and frequent reinfection after therapy in endemic areas.

Table 53–1 lists the major helminthic infections and provides a guide to the drug of choice and alternative drugs for each infection. In the text that follows, these drugs are arranged alphabetically. In general, parasites should be identified before treatment is started.

TABLE 53–1 Drugs for the treatment of helminthic infections.1



Albendazole, a broad-spectrum oral antihelminthic, is the drug of choice and is approved in the USA for treatment of hydatid disease and cysticercosis. It is also used in the treatment of pinworm and hookworm infections, ascariasis, trichuriasis, and strongyloidiasis.

Basic Pharmacology

Albendazole is a benzimidazole carbamate. After oral administration, it is erratically absorbed (increased with a fatty meal) and then rapidly undergoes first-pass metabolism in the liver to the active metabolite albendazole sulfoxide. It reaches variable maximum plasma concentrations about 3 hours after a 400 mg oral dose, and its plasma half-life is 8–12 hours. The sulfoxide is mostly protein-bound, distributes well to tissues, and enters bile, cerebrospinal fluid, and hydatid cysts. Albendazole metabolites are excreted in the urine.

Benzimidazoles are thought to act against nematodes by inhibiting microtubule synthesis. Albendazole also has larvicidal effects in hydatid disease, cysticercosis, ascariasis, and hookworm infection and ovicidal effects in ascariasis, ancylostomiasis, and trichuriasis.

Clinical Uses

Albendazole is administered on an empty stomach when used against intraluminal parasites but with a fatty meal when used against tissue parasites.

1. Ascariasis, trichuriasis, and hookworm and pinworm infectionsFor adults and children older than 2 years with ascariasis and pinworm infections, the treatment for ascariasis is a single dose of 400 mg orally (repeated for 2–3 days for heavy infections and in 2 weeks for pinworm infections). These treatments typically achieve good cure rates and marked reduction in egg counts in those not cured. For hookworm infections and trichuriasis, albendazole at 400 mg orally once daily for 3 days is now recommended, with albendazole showing improved efficacy over mebendazole. In addition, combination of either mebendazole or albendazole with ivermectin to treat trichuriasis markedly improved treatment outcomes.

2. Hydatid diseaseAlbendazole is the treatment of choice for medical therapy and is a useful adjunct to surgical removal or aspiration of cysts. It is more active against Echinococcus granulosus than against Echinococcus multilocularis. Dosing is 400 mg twice daily with meals for 1 month or longer. Daily therapy for up to 6 months has been well tolerated. One reported therapeutic strategy is to treat with albendazole and praziquantel, to assess response after 1 month or more and, depending on the response, to then manage the patient with continued chemotherapy or combined surgical and drug therapy.

3. NeurocysticercosisIndications for medical therapy for neurocysticercosis are controversial, since antihelminthic therapy is not clearly superior to therapy with corticosteroids alone and may exacerbate neurologic disease. Therapy is probably most appropriate for symptomatic parenchymal or intraventricular cysts. Corticosteroids are usually given with the antihelminthic drug to decrease inflammation caused by dying organisms. Albendazole is now generally considered the drug of choice over praziquantel because of its shorter course, lower cost, improved penetration into the subarachnoid space, and increased drug levels (as opposed to decreased levels of praziquantel) when administered with corticosteroids. Albendazole is given in a dosage of 400 mg twice daily for up to 21 days.

4. Other infectionsAlbendazole is the drug of choice in the treatment of cutaneous larva migrans (400 mg daily for 3 days), visceral larva migrans (400 mg twice daily for 5 days), intestinal capillariasis (400 mg daily for 10 days), microsporidial infections (400 mg twice daily for 2 weeks or longer), and gnathostomiasis (400 mg twice daily for 3 weeks). It also has activity against taeniasis (400 mg daily for 3 days), trichinosis (400 mg twice daily for 1–2 weeks), and clonorchiasis (400 mg twice daily for 1 week). There have been reports of effectiveness in treatment of opisthorchiasis, toxocariasis, and loiasis. Albendazole is included in programs to control lymphatic filariasis. It appears to be less active than diethylcarbamazine or ivermectin for this purpose, but it is included in combination with either of those drugs in control programs. Albendazole has been recommended as empiric therapy to treat those who return from the tropics with persistent unexplained eosinophilia. Considering protozoal infections, albendazole has shown efficacy similar to that of metronidazole, with less toxicity, against giardiasis.

Adverse Reactions, Contraindications, & Cautions

When used for 1–3 days, albendazole is nearly free of significant adverse effects. Mild and transient epigastric distress, diarrhea, headache, nausea, dizziness, lassitude, and insomnia can occur. In long-term use for hydatid disease, albendazole is well tolerated, but it can cause abdominal distress, headaches, fever, fatigue, alopecia, increases in liver enzymes, and pancytopenia.

Blood counts and liver function should be monitored during long-term therapy. The drug should not be given to patients with known hypersensitivity to other benzimidazole drugs or to those with cirrhosis. The safety of albendazole in pregnancy and in children younger than 2 years has not been established.


Bithionol is an alternative to triclabendazole for the treatment of fascioliasis (sheep liver fluke) and an alternative to praziquantel for the treatment of paragonimiasis.

Basic Pharmacology & Clinical Uses

After ingestion, bithionol reaches peak blood levels in 4–8 hours. Excretion appears to be mainly via the kidney.

For treatment of paragonimiasis and fascioliasis, the dosage of bithionol is 30–50 mg/kg in two or three divided doses, given orally after meals on alternate days for 10–15 doses. For pulmonary paragonimiasis, cure rates are over 90%. For cerebral paragonimiasis, repeat courses may be necessary.

Adverse Reactions, Contraindications, & Cautions

Adverse effects, which occur in up to 40% of patients, are generally mild and transient, but occasionally their severity requires interruption of therapy. These problems include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, anorexia, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and headache. Skin rashes may occur after a week or more of therapy, suggesting a reaction to antigens released from dying worms. Bithionol should be used with caution in children younger than 8 years because there has been limited experience in this age group.


Diethylcarbamazine is a drug of choice in the treatment of filariasis, loiasis, and tropical eosinophilia. It has been replaced by ivermectin for the treatment of onchocerciasis.

Basic Pharmacology

Diethylcarbamazine, a synthetic piperazine derivative, is rapidly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract; after a 0.5 mg/kg dose, peak plasma levels are reached within 1–2 hours. The plasma half-life is 2–3 hours in the presence of acidic urine but about 10 hours if the urine is alkaline, a Henderson-Hasselbalch trapping effect (see Chapter 1). The drug rapidly equilibrates with all tissues except fat. It is excreted, principally in the urine, as unchanged drug and the N-oxide metabolite. Dosage should be reduced in patients with renal impairment.

Diethylcarbamazine immobilizes microfilariae and alters their surface structure, displacing them from tissues and making them more susceptible to destruction by host defense mechanisms. The mode of action against adult worms is unknown.

Clinical Uses

The drug should be taken after meals.

1. Wuchereria bancrofti, Brugia malayi, Brugia timori, and Loa loaDiethylcarbamazine is the drug of choice for treatment of infections with these parasites because of its efficacy and lack of serious toxicity. Microfilariae of all species are rapidly killed; adult parasites are killed more slowly, often requiring several courses of treatment. The drug is highly effective against adult L loa. The extent to which W bancrofti and B malayi adults are killed is not known, but after appropriate therapy microfilariae do not reappear in the majority of patients. Lymphatic filariasis is treated with 2 mg/kg three times a day for 12 days, and loiasis is treated with the same regimen for 2–3 weeks. Antihistamines may be given for the first few days of therapy to limit allergic reactions, and corticosteroids should be started and doses of diethylcarbamazine lowered or interrupted if severe reactions occur. Cures may require several courses of treatment. For patients with high L loa worm burdens (more than 2500 circulating parasites/mL), strategies to decrease risks of severe toxicity include (a) apheresis, if available, to remove microfilariae before treatment with diethycarbamazine, or (b) therapy with albendazole, which is slower acting and better tolerated, followed by therapy with diethylcarbamazine or ivermectin. Diethylcarbamazine may also be used for chemoprophylaxis against filarial infections (300 mg weekly or 300 mg on 3 successive days each month for loiasis; 50 mg monthly for bancroftian and Malayan filariasis).

2. Other usesFor tropical eosinophilia, diethylcarbamazine is given orally at a dosage of 2 mg/kg three times daily for 2–3 weeks. Diethylcarbamazine is effective in Mansonella streptocerca infections, since it kills both adults and microfilariae. Limited information suggests that the drug is not effective, however, against adult Mansonella ozzardi or Mansonella perstans and that it has limited activity against microfilariae of these parasites. An important application of diethylcarbamazine has been mass treatment to reduce the prevalence of W bancrofti infection, generally in combination with ivermectin or albendazole. This strategy has led to excellent progress in disease control in a number of countries.

Adverse Reactions, Contraindications, & Cautions

Reactions to diethylcarbamazine, which are generally mild and transient, include headache, malaise, anorexia, weakness, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. Adverse effects also occur as a result of the release of proteins from dying microfilariae or adult worms. Reactions are particularly severe with onchocerciasis, but diethylcarbamazine is no longer commonly used for this infection, because ivermectin is equally efficacious and less toxic. Reactions to dying microfilariae are usually mild in W bancrofti, more intense in B malayi, and occasionally severe in L loa infections. Reactions include fever, malaise, papular rash, headache, gastrointestinal symptoms, cough, chest pain, and muscle or joint pain. Leukocytosis is common and eosinophilia may increase with treatment. Proteinuria may also occur. Symptoms are most likely to occur in patients with heavy loads of microfilariae. Retinal hemorrhages and, rarely, encephalopathy have been described. Local reactions may occur in the vicinity of dying adult or immature worms. These include lymphangitis with localized swellings in W bancrofti and B malayi, small wheals in the skin in L loa, and flat papules in M streptocerca infections. Patients with attacks of lymphangitis due to W bancrofti or B malayi should be treated during a quiescent period between attacks. Caution is advised when using diethylcarbamazine in patients with hypertension or renal disease.


This tetracycline antibiotic is described in more detail in Chapter 44. Doxycycline has recently been shown to have significant macrofilaricidal activity against W bancrofti, suggesting better activity than any other available drug against adult worms. Activity is also seen against onchocerciasis. Doxycycline acts indirectly, by killing Wolbachia, an intracellular bacterial symbiont of filarial parasites. It may prove to be an important drug for filariasis, both for treatment of active disease and in mass chemotherapy campaigns.


Ivermectin is the drug of choice in strongyloidiasis and onchocerciasis. It is also an alternative drug for a number of other helminthic infections (Table 53-1).

Basic Pharmacology

Ivermectin, a semisynthetic macrocyclic lactone derived from the soil actinomycete Streptomyces avermitilis, is a mixture of avermectin B1a and B1b. Ivermectin is available only for oral administration in humans. The drug is rapidly absorbed, reaching maximum plasma concentrations 4 hours after a 12 mg dose. Ivermectin has a wide tissue distribution and a volume of distribution of about 50 L. Its half-life is about 16 hours. Excretion of the drug and its metabolites is almost exclusively in the feces.

Ivermectin appears to paralyze nematodes and arthropods by intensifying γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-mediated transmission of signals in peripheral nerves. In onchocerciasis, ivermectin is microfilaricidal. It does not effectively kill adult worms but blocks the release of microfilariae for some months after therapy. After a single standard dose, microfilariae in the skin diminish rapidly within 2–3 days, remain low for months, and then gradually increase; microfilariae in the anterior chamber of the eye decrease slowly over months, eventually clear, and then gradually return. With repeated doses of ivermectin, the drug appears to have a low-level macrofilaricidal action and to permanently reduce microfilarial production.

Clinical Uses

1. OnchocerciasisTreatment is with a single oral dose of ivermectin, 150 mcg/kg, with water on an empty stomach. Doses are repeated; regimens vary from monthly to less frequent (every 6–12 months) dosing schedules. After acute therapy, treatment is repeated at 12-month intervals until the adult worms die, which may take 10 years or longer. With the first treatment only, patients with microfilariae in the cornea or anterior chamber may be treated with corticosteroids to avoid inflammatory eye reactions.

Ivermectin also now plays a key role in onchocerciasis control. Annual mass treatments have led to major reductions in disease transmission. However, evidence of diminished responsiveness after mass administration of ivermectin has raised concern regarding selection of drug-resistant parasites.

2. StrongyloidiasisTreatment consists of 200 mcg/kg once daily for 2 days. In immunosuppressed patients with disseminated infection, repeated treatment is often needed, and cure may not be possible. In this case, suppressive therapy—ie, once monthly—may be helpful.

3. Other parasites—Ivermectin reduces microfilariae in B malayi and M ozzardi infections but not in M perstans infections. It has been used with diethylcarbamazine and albendazole for the control of W bancrofti, but it does not kill adult worms. In loiasis, although the drug reduces microfilaria concentrations, it can occasionally induce severe reactions and appears to be more dangerous in this regard than diethylcarbamazine. Ivermectin is also effective in controlling scabies, lice, and cutaneous larva migrans and in eliminating a large proportion of ascarid worms.

Adverse Reactions, Contraindications, & Cautions

In strongyloidiasis treatment, infrequent adverse effects include fatigue, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and rashes. In onchocerciasis treatment, adverse effects are principally from the killing of microfilariae and can include fever, headache, dizziness, somnolence, weakness, rash, increased pruritus, diarrhea, joint and muscle pains, hypotension, tachycardia, lymphadenitis, lymphangitis, and peripheral edema. This reaction starts on the first day and peaks on the second day after treatment. It occurs in 5–30% of persons and is generally mild, but it may be more frequent and more severe in individuals who are not long-term residents of onchocerciasis-endemic areas. A more intense reaction occurs in 1–3% of persons and a severe reaction in 0.1%, including high fever, hypotension, and bronchospasm. Corticosteroids are indicated in these cases, at times for several days. Toxicity diminishes with repeated dosing. Swellings and abscesses occasionally occur at 1–3 weeks, presumably at sites of adult worms. Some patients develop corneal opacities and other eye lesions several days after treatment. These are rarely severe and generally resolve without corticosteroid treatment. It is best to avoid concomitant use of ivermectin with other drugs that enhance GABA activity, eg, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and valproic acid. Ivermectin should not be used during pregnancy. Safety in children younger than 5 years has not been established.


Mebendazole is a synthetic benzimidazole that has a wide spectrum of antihelminthic activity and a low incidence of adverse effects.

Basic Pharmacology

Less than 10% of orally administered mebendazole is absorbed. The absorbed drug is protein-bound (> 90%), is rapidly converted to inactive metabolites (primarily during its first pass in the liver), and has a half-life of 2–6 hours. It is excreted mostly in the urine, principally as decarboxylated derivatives, as well as in the bile. Absorption is increased if the drug is ingested with a fatty meal.

Mebendazole probably acts by inhibiting microtubule synthesis; the parent drug appears to be the active form. Efficacy of the drug varies with gastrointestinal transit time, with intensity of infection, and perhaps with the strain of parasite. The drug kills hookworm, ascaris, and trichuris eggs.

Clinical Uses

Mebendazole is indicated for use in ascariasis, trichuriasis, hookworm and pinworm infections, and certain other helminthic infections. It can be taken before or after meals; the tablets should be chewed before swallowing. For pinworm infection, the dose is 100 mg once, repeated at 2 weeks. For ascariasis, trichuriasis, hookworm, and trichostrongylus infections, a dosage of 100 mg twice daily for 3 days is used for adults and for children older than 2 years. Cure rates are good for pinworm infections and ascariasis, but have been disappointing in recent studies of trichuriasis, although efficacy for trichuriasis is better than that of albendazole. Cure rates are also lower for hookworm infections, but a marked reduction in the worm burden occurs in those not cured. For intestinal capillariasis, mebendazole is used at a dosage of 200 mg twice daily for 21 or more days. In trichinosis, limited reports suggest efficacy against adult worms in the intestinal tract and tissue larvae. Treatment is three times daily, with fatty foods, at 200–400 mg per dose for 3 days and then 400–500 mg per dose for 10 days; corticosteroids should be co-administered for severe infections.

Adverse Reactions, Contraindications, & Cautions

Short-term mebendazole therapy for intestinal nematodes is nearly free of adverse effects. Mild nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain have been reported infrequently. Rare side effects, usually with high-dose therapy, are hypersensitivity reactions (rash, urticaria), agranulocytosis, alopecia, and elevation of liver enzymes.

Mebendazole is teratogenic in animals and therefore contraindicated in pregnancy. It should be used with caution in children younger than 2 years because of limited experience and rare reports of convulsions in this age group. Plasma levels may be decreased by concomitant use of carbamazepine or phenytoin and increased by cimetidine. Mebendazole should be used with caution in patients with cirrhosis.


Metrifonate is a safe, low-cost alternative drug for the treatment of Schistosoma haematobium infections. It is not active against Schistosoma mansoni or Schistosoma japonicum. It is not available in the USA.

Basic Pharmacology

Metrifonate, an organophosphate compound, is rapidly absorbed after oral administration. After the standard oral dose, peak blood levels are reached in 1–2 hours; the half-life is about 1.5 hours. Clearance appears to be through nonenzymatic transformation to dichlorvos, its active metabolite. Metrifonate and dichlorvos are well distributed to the tissues and are completely eliminated in 24–48 hours.

The mode of action is thought to be cholinesterase inhibition. This inhibition temporarily paralyzes adult worms, resulting in their shift from the bladder venous plexus to small arterioles of the lungs, where they are killed. The drug is not effective against S haematobium eggs; live eggs continue to pass in the urine for several months after all adult worms have been killed.

Clinical Uses

In the treatment of S haematobium, an oral dose of 7.5–10 mg/kg is given three times at 14-day intervals. Cure rates on this schedule are 44–93%, with marked reductions in egg counts in those not cured. Metrifonate was also effective as a prophylactic agent when given monthly to children in a highly endemic area, and it has been used in mass treatment programs. In mixed infections with S haematobium and S mansoni, metrifonate has been successfully combined with oxamniquine.

Adverse Reactions, Contraindications, & Cautions

Some studies note mild and transient cholinergic symptoms, including nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, bronchospasm, headache, sweating, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, and vertigo. These symptoms may begin within 30 minutes and persist up to 12 hours. Metrifonate should not be used after recent exposure to insecticides or drugs that might potentiate cholinesterase inhibition. Metrifonate is contraindicated in pregnancy.


Niclosamide is a second-line drug for the treatment of most tapeworm infections, but it is not available in the USA.

Basic Pharmacology

Niclosamide is a salicylamide derivative. It appears to be minimally absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract—neither the drug nor its metabolites have been recovered from the blood or urine. Adult worms (but not ova) are rapidly killed, presumably due to inhibition of oxidative phosphorylation or stimulation of ATPase activity.

Clinical Uses

The adult dose of niclosamide is 2 g once, given in the morning on an empty stomach. The tablets must be chewed thoroughly and then swallowed with water.

1. Taenia saginata (beef tapeworm), Taenia solium (pork tapeworm), and Diphyllobothrium latum (fish tapeworm)A single 2 g dose of niclosamide results in cure rates of over 85% for D latum and about 95% for T saginata. It is probably equally effective against T solium. Cysticercosis can theoretically occur after treatment of T solium infections, because viable ova are released into the gut lumen after digestion of segments, but no such cases have been reported.

2. Other tapewormsMost patients treated with niclosamide for Hymenolepsis diminuta and Dipylidium caninum infections are cured with a 7-day course of treatment; a few require a second course. Praziquantel is superior for Hymenolepis nana (dwarf tapeworm) infection. Niclosamide is not effective against cysticercosis or hydatid disease.

3. Intestinal fluke infectionsNiclosamide can be used as an alternative drug in the treatment of Fasciolopsis buski, Heterophyes heterophyes, and Metagonimus yokogawai infections. The standard dose is given every other day for three doses.

Adverse Reactions, Contraindications, & Cautions

Infrequent, mild, and transitory adverse events include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort. The consumption of alcohol should be avoided on the day of treatment and for 1 day afterward. The safety of the drug has not been established in pregnancy or for children younger than 2 years.


Oxamniquine is an alternative to praziquantel for the treatment of S mansoni infections. It has also been used extensively for mass treatment. It is not effective against S haematobium or S japonicum. It is not available in the USA.

Basic Pharmacology

Oxamniquine, a semisynthetic tetrahydroquinoline, is readily absorbed orally; it should be taken with food. Its plasma half-life is about 2.5 hours. The drug is extensively metabolized to inactive metabolites and excreted in the urine—up to 75% in the first 24 hours. Intersubject variations in serum concentration have been noted, which may explain some treatment failures.

Oxamniquine is active against both mature and immature stages of S mansoni but does not appear to be cercaricidal. The mechanism of action is unknown. Contraction and paralysis of the worms results in detachment from terminal venules in the mesentery and transit to the liver, where many die; surviving females return to the mesenteric vessels but cease to lay eggs. Strains of S mansoni in different parts of the world vary in susceptibility. Oxamniquine has been effective in instances of praziquantel resistance.

Clinical Uses

Oxamniquine is safe and effective in all stages of S mansoni disease, including advanced hepatosplenomegaly. The drug is generally less effective in children, who require higher doses than adults. It is better tolerated with food.

Optimal dosage schedules vary for different regions of the world. In the western hemisphere and western Africa, the adult oxamniquine dosage is 12–15 mg/kg given once. In northern and southern Africa, standard schedules are 15 mg/kg twice daily for 2 days. In eastern Africa and the Arabian peninsula, standard dosage is 15–20 mg/kg twice in 1 day. Cure rates are 70–95%, with marked reduction in egg excretion in those not cured. In mixed schistosome infections, oxamniquine has been successfully used in combination with metrifonate.

Adverse Reactions, Contraindications, & Cautions

Mild symptoms, starting about 3 hours after a dose and lasting for several hours, occur in more than one third of patients. Central nervous system symptoms (dizziness, headache, drowsiness) are most common; nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, colic, pruritus, and urticaria also occur. Infrequent adverse effects are low-grade fever, an orange to red discoloration of the urine, proteinuria, microscopic hematuria, and a transient decrease in leukocytes. Seizures have been reported rarely.

Since the drug makes many patients dizzy or drowsy, it should be used with caution in patients whose work or activity requires mental alertness (eg, no driving for 24 hours). It should be used with caution in those with a history of epilepsy. Oxamniquine is contraindicated in pregnancy.


Piperazine is an alternative for the treatment of ascariasis, with cure rates over 90% when taken for 2 days, but it is not recommended for other helminth infections. Piperazine is available as the hexahydrate and as a variety of salts. It is readily absorbed, and maximum plasma levels are reached in 2–4 hours. Most of the drug is excreted unchanged in the urine in 2–6 hours, and excretion is complete within 24 hours.

Piperazine causes paralysis of ascaris by blocking acetylcholine at the myoneural junction; live worms are expelled by peristalsis.

For ascariasis, the dosage of piperazine (as the hexahydrate) is 75 mg/kg (maximum dose, 3.5 g) orally once daily for 2 days. For heavy infections, treatment should be continued for 3–4 days or repeated after 1 week.

Occasional mild adverse effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, dizziness, and headache. Neurotoxicity and allergic reactions are rare. Piperazine compounds should not be given to pregnant women, patients with impaired renal or hepatic function, or those with a history of epilepsy or chronic neurologic disease.


Praziquantel is effective in the treatment of schistosome infections of all species and most other trematode and cestode infections, including cysticercosis. The drug’s safety and effectiveness as a single oral dose have also made it useful in mass treatment of several infections.

Basic Pharmacology

Praziquantel is a synthetic isoquinoline-pyrazine derivative. It is rapidly absorbed, with a bioavailability of about 80% after oral administration. Peak serum concentrations are reached 1–3 hours after a therapeutic dose. Cerebrospinal fluid concentrations of praziquantel reach 14–20% of the drug’s plasma concentration. About 80% of the drug is bound to plasma proteins. Most of the drug is rapidly metabolized to inactive mono- and polyhydroxylated products after a first pass in the liver. The half-life is 0.8–1.5 hours. Excretion is mainly via the kidneys (60–80%) and bile (15–35%). Plasma concentrations of praziquantel increase when the drug is taken with a high-carbohydrate meal or with cimetidine; bioavailability is markedly reduced with some antiepileptics (phenytoin, carbamazepine) or with corticosteroids.

Praziquantel appears to increase the permeability of trematode and cestode cell membranes to calcium, resulting in paralysis, dislodgement, and death. In schistosome infections of experimental animals, praziquantel is effective against adult worms and immature stages, and it has a prophylactic effect against cercarial infection.

Clinical Uses

Praziquantel tablets are taken with liquid after a meal; they should be swallowed without chewing because their bitter taste can induce retching and vomiting.

1. SchistosomiasisPraziquantel is the drug of choice for all forms of schistosomiasis. The dosage is 20 mg/kg per dose for two (S mansoni and S haematobium) or three (S japonicum and S mekongi) doses at intervals of 4–6 hours. High cure rates (75–95%) are achieved when patients are evaluated at 3–6 months; there is marked reduction in egg counts in those not cured. The drug is effective in adults and children and is generally well tolerated by patients in the hepatosplenic stage of advanced disease. There is no standard regimen for acute schistosomiasis (Katayama syndrome), but standard doses as described above, often with corticosteroids to limit inflammation from the acute immune response and dying worms, are recommended. Increasing evidence indicates rare S mansoni drug resistance, which may be countered with extended courses of therapy (eg, 3–6 days at standard dosing) or treatment with oxamniquine. Effectiveness of praziquantel for chemoprophylaxis has not been established.

2. Clonorchiasis, opisthorchiasis, and paragonimiasisStandard dosing is 25 mg/kg three times daily for 2 days for each of these fluke infections.

3. Taeniasis and diphyllobothriasisA single dose of praziquantel, 5–10 mg/kg, results in nearly 100% cure rates for T saginata, T solium, and D latum infections. Because praziquantel does not kill eggs, it is theoretically possible that larvae of T solium released from eggs in the large bowel could penetrate the intestinal wall and give rise to cysticercosis, but this hazard is probably minimal.

4. NeurocysticercosisAlbendazole is now the preferred drug, but when it is not appropriate or available, praziquantel has similar efficacy. Indications for praziquantel are similar to those for albendazole. The praziquantel dosage is 100 mg/kg/d in three divided doses for 1 day, then 50 mg/kg/d to complete a 2- to 4-week course. Clinical responses to therapy vary from dramatic improvements of seizures and other neurologic findings to no response and even progression of the disease. Praziquantel—but not albendazole—has diminished bioavailability when taken concurrently with a corticosteroid. Recommendations on use of both antihelminthics and corticosteroids in neurocysticercosis vary.

5. Hymenolepis nanaPraziquantel is the drug of choice for H nana infections and the first drug to be highly effective. A single dose of 25 mg/kg is taken initially and repeated in 1 week.

6. Hydatid diseaseIn hydatid disease, praziquantel kills protoscoleces but does not affect the germinal membrane. Praziquantel is being evaluated as an adjunct with albendazole pre- and postsurgery. In addition to its direct action, praziquantel enhances the plasma concentration of albendazole.

7. Other parasitesLimited trials showed effectiveness of praziquantel at a dosage of 25 mg/kg three times daily for 1–2 days against fasciolopsiasis, metagonimiasis, and other forms of heterophyiasis. Praziquantel was not effective for fascioliasis, however, even at dosages as high as 25 mg/kg three times daily for 3–7 days.

Adverse Reactions, Contraindications, & Cautions

Mild and transient adverse effects are common. They begin within hours after ingestion of praziquantel and may persist for about 1 day. Most common are headache, dizziness, drowsiness, and lassitude; others include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, loose stools, pruritus, urticaria, arthralgia, myalgia, and low-grade fever. Mild and transient elevations of liver enzymes have been reported. Several days after starting praziquantel, low-grade fever, pruritus, and skin rashes (macular and urticarial), sometimes associated with worsened eosinophilia, may occur, probably due to the release of proteins from dying worms rather than direct drug toxicity. The intensity and frequency of adverse effects increase with dosage such that they occur in up to 50% of patients who receive 25 mg/kg three times daily.

In neurocysticercosis, neurologic abnormalities may be exacerbated by inflammatory reactions around dying parasites. Common findings in patients who do not receive corticosteroids, usually presenting during or shortly after therapy, are headache, meningismus, nausea, vomiting, mental changes, and seizures (often accompanied by increased cerebrospinal fluid pleocytosis). More serious reactions, including arachnoiditis, hyperthermia, and intracranial hypertension, may also occur. Corticosteroids are commonly used with praziquantel in the treatment of neurocysticercosis to decrease the inflammatory response, but this is controversial and complicated by knowledge that corticosteroids decrease the plasma level of praziquantel up to 50%. Praziquantel is contraindicated in ocular cysticercosis, because parasite destruction in the eye may cause irreparable damage. Some workers also caution against use of the drug in spinal neurocysticercosis.

Praziquantel is safe and well tolerated in children. The drug should be avoided in pregnancy if possible. Because the drug induces dizziness and drowsiness, patients should not drive during therapy and should be warned regarding activities requiring particular physical coordination or alertness.


Pyrantel pamoate is a broad-spectrum antihelminthic highly effective for the treatment of pinworm, ascaris, and Trichostrongylus orientalis infections. It is moderately effective against both species of hookworm. It is not effective in trichuriasis or strongyloidiasis. Oxantel pamoate, an analog of pyrantel not available in the USA, has been used successfully in the treatment of trichuriasis; the two drugs have been combined for their broad-spectrum antihelminthic activity.

Basic Pharmacology

Pyrantel pamoate is a tetrahydropyrimidine derivative. It is poorly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract and active mainly against luminal organisms. Peak plasma levels are reached in 1–3 hours. Over half of the administered dose is recovered unchanged in the feces. Pyrantel is effective against mature and immature forms of susceptible helminths within the intestinal tract but not against migratory stages in the tissues or against ova. The drug is a neuromuscular blocking agent that causes release of acetylcholine and inhibition of cholinesterase; this results in paralysis of worms, followed by expulsion.

Clinical Uses

The standard dose is 11 mg (base)/kg (maximum, 1 g), given orally once with or without food. For pinworm, the dose is repeated in 2 weeks, and cure rates are greater than 95%. The drug is available in the USA without prescription for this indication.

For ascariasis, a single dose yields cure rates of 85–100%. Treatment should be repeated if eggs are found 2 weeks after treatment. For hookworm infections, a single dose is effective against light infections; but for heavy infections, especially with Necator americanus, a 3-day course is necessary to achieve 90% cure rates. A course of treatment can be repeated in 2 weeks.

Adverse Reactions, Contraindications, & Cautions

Adverse effects are infrequent, mild, and transient. They may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, dizziness, drowsiness, headache, insomnia, rash, fever, and weakness. Pyrantel should be used with caution in patients with liver dysfunction, as transient aminotransferase elevations have been noted. Experience with the drug in pregnant women and children younger than 2 years is limited.


Thiabendazole is an alternative to ivermectin or albendazole for the treatment of strongyloidiasis and cutaneous larva migrans.

Basic Pharmacology

Thiabendazole is a benzimidazole compound. Although it is a chelating agent that forms stable complexes with a number of metals, including iron, it does not bind calcium. Thiabendazole is rapidly absorbed after ingestion. With a standard dose, drug concentrations in plasma peak within 1–2 hours; the half-life is 1.2 hours. The drug is almost completely metabolized in the liver to the 5-hydroxy form; 90% is excreted in the urine in 48 hours, largely as the glucuronide or sulfonate conjugate. Thiabendazole can also be absorbed from the skin. The mechanism of action of thiabendazole is probably the same as that of other benzimidazoles (inhibition of microtubule synthesis). The drug has ovicidal effects against some parasites.

Clinical Uses

The standard dosage, 25 mg/kg (maximum 1.5 g) twice daily, should be given after meals. Tablets should be chewed. For strongyloides infection, treatment is for 2 days. Cure rates are reportedly 93%. A course can be repeated in 1 week if indicated. In patients with hyperinfection syndrome, the standard dose is continued twice daily for 5–7 days. For cutaneous larva migrans, thiabendazole cream can be applied topically, or the oral drug can be given for 2 days (although albendazole is less toxic and therefore preferred).

Adverse Reactions, Contraindications, & Cautions

Thiabendazole is much more toxic than other benzimidazoles and more toxic than ivermectin, so other agents are now preferred for most indications. Common adverse effects include dizziness, anorexia, nausea, and vomiting. Less common problems are epigastric pain, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, pruritus, headache, drowsiness, and neuropsychiatric symptoms. Irreversible liver failure and fatal Stevens-Johnson syndrome have been reported. Experience with thiabendazole is limited in children weighing less than 15 kg. The drug should not be used in pregnancy or in the presence of hepatic or renal disease





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The presentation is highly suggestive of cystic hydatid disease (infection with Echinococcus granulosus), which is transmitted by eggs from the feces of dogs in contact with livestock. Other causes of liver fluid collections include amebic and pyogenic abscesses, but these are usually not cystic in appearance. For echinococcosis, a typical cystic lesion and positive serology support the diagnosis, and treatment generally entails albendazole in conjunction with cautious surgery or percutaneous aspiration. One approach entails treatment with albendazole followed by aspiration to confirm the diagnosis and, if it is confirmed, to remove most of the infecting worms.