Health and Fitness

I Have a Parasite! What Does that Mean?

Featured image courtesy of Parasite Summit

Parasites are dependent organisms that reside inside (endoparasites) and on the host organism (ectoparasites). The vast majority of parasites are non-visible to the human eye. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the transmission methods include insects, water, food, blood, and animal. Certain parasites are blood-borne, meaning they can be transferred from an affected person to the other. Exposure to contaminated blood is usually a result of blood transfusion and sharing of needles. Zoonotic diseases are spread between people and animal carriers with the help of fungi, parasites, bacteria, and viruses. Some parasites are transmitted through various water bodies. The water-borne diseases spread by parasites include Giardiasis, Schistosomiasis, and Guinea Worms. The disorders usually spread when people drink or come into contact with contaminated water sources.

Different Types of Parasites in the Human Body

The parasites that live in the human body vary in characteristics; the sizes range from several meters to a microscopic scale. The three main types of parasites are Ectoparasites, Helminths, and Protozoa. Protozoa or Plasmodium is a single-celled microorganism that can only multiply within the host organism. Helminths are worm parasites while Ectoparasites usually live on the host. Common examples of Ectoparasites include itch mite and human fleas. According to Diagnose-Me, the different groups of Helminths in Humans are Flukes (Flatworms), Roundworms and Tapeworms. Roundworms are widespread, and mostly inhabit areas with warmer or temperate climates.

Statistics indicate up to one-quarter of the world’s population are infected by roundworms. This category of worms includes trichinae, hookworms, and pinworms. The highly contagious pinworms are usually found in crowded places like schools, prisons, and marketplaces. Hookworms typically live inside the digestive tract of the host organism. They usually ingest food by attaching themselves to the walls of the intestines. Tapeworms can enter the body when ingested in the form of larvae. You can acquire a tapeworm if you eat under-cooked food or getting in touch with contaminated food and animal. Their long ribbon resembling shape can easily distinguish the worms.

Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of Parasites

Signs and symptoms of parasitic infection usually manifest in many different ways. According to Healthline, the general signs of parasitic infection include restlessness during sleep-time; the appearance of blisters on the lower lip and runny nose. On the other hand, the symptoms that characterize parasitic infection include diarrhea, loose stool, vomiting, loss of appetite and coughing. Persons affected may also report distended abdomen and abdominal cramps and gas. If left untreated, the symptoms of infection can last several weeks and may return, usually several times a year. The parasites can also cause many diseases in both humans and animals.

The list includes Roundworm, Guinea worm, Trichomoniasis, Cryptosporidiosis, Giardiasis, Elephantiasis lymphatic filariasis, Beef tapeworms, Lung fluke, and Toxocariasis. Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted parasitic disease with no known symptoms. However, the infected persons often experience redness, itching and unusual discharge in the genital area. Giardiasis may cause dehydration and stomach cramps. People with Cryptosporidiosis often experience weight loss, stomach pain, and nausea. In spite of the wide-held negative perceptions and beliefs, several parasites are harmless to the human’s body and hardly cause any illness to hosts.

How to Treat Parasites

The WHO statistics show parasitic infestation is a worldwide phenomenon affecting as many as 25% of the entire world population. What is more worrying is the fact that parasitic infestation can cause diseases, disability and in worst cases, death. Most of the parasites that infect humans can be cured or prevented. According to the CDC (2), the tests used for diagnosing parasitic diseases in humans include Endoscopy, fecal examination, blood test and imaging techniques. The preferred blood testing techniques include the more common blood smear test and serology that analyzes the parasitic antigens and antibodies. The imaging techniques used in diagnoses are X-ray, CAT scan, and MRI scan. Parasitic infestation can be effectively treated with medications. The most widely used worm medications, according to Livestrong are Ivermectin, Albendazole, Metronidazole, and Diethylcarbamazine.

Albendazole is highly recommended for treatment of Ascariasis, Trichinosis, and Threadworms. It can be used by both adults and children age 2 and above. Albendazole is a common drug for treatment of mono-celled parasites such as Trichomonas vigils and Giardia. However, if the patient’s condition is severe, the doctor may recommend surgery or the administration of hormone prednisone to treat severe cases like Toxocariasis. Worms that may require surgical treatment include Guinea worm and certain roundworms. There are also several natural remedies that can help persons with parasites. According to Wellness Mama, the most commonly used solutions for parasitic infestation include coconut oil, probiotics, olive oil and Diatomaceous Earth.

Probiotics can help restore beneficial bacteria populations in the gut to ensure stable intestinal flora. The supplement can still be used when the parasites are long gone. However, the user instructions must be keenly followed. Coconut oil is a well-known nourishment and antifungal substance. It can also be used as fuel for the hormones. The natural remedies for treating parasitic infestation also include herbs like Peppermint, Oregano Oil and Grapefruit Seed Extract. Before consuming any of these herbs, it is essential to do a little research or consult a dietary expert. On the whole, many preventive measures have been formulated by health stakeholders in the US and around the world to fight and prevent the recurrence of the parasitic diseases. These include:

  •    Teaching children to wash hands after visiting toilets or latrine
  •    To prevent hookworms and other similar parasites, wear shoes or slippers
  •    Washing fruit and vegetable before eating
  •    Avoid swimming in open water such as streams, rivers, and lakes
  •    Ensure foods such as fish and meat are cooked thoroughly before serving
  •    Avoid drinking water from contaminated sources
  •    Eat foods rich in fiber while avoiding those with sugar and refined carbohydrates
  •    Once in a while, consume foods rich in curry, which is a renowned anti-parasitic, heart-healthy condiment