You might be surprised at just how many other creatures you share your body with. Much of the bacteria in our body, like the ones that live in your gut, are beneficial. We couldn’t live without them to help regulate our bodily systems.
But sometimes, you get a freeloader who’s only out for themselves—a parasite. Today let’s talk all about parasites in humans. Parasites don’t only invade those who live in underdeveloped nations! It’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of Americans have undiagnosed a parasite infection. Many of them go ignored or misdiagnosed, and most are transmitted via food and water.
If you own a pet, you’re probably used to giving them regular checks and medications to keep them free of parasites like fleas and worms. But you may not be so conscious of the risk of human parasites. From worms to lice, yeast or amoebas, parasitic infections are serious and need to be dealt with as soon as possible.
*none of the information in this post is meant to diagnose or treat disease, this is simply an informative post on parasites
What is a Parasite?
A parasite is an organism that lives inside or on a host and is dependent on the host for its survival. Unlike your gut flora that helps control your digestion, there is no benefit from having a parasite in your body. Just the opposite, in fact. The harmful effects of human parasites can range from itching, in the case of fleas or lice, to severe illness and even death from amebic infections or worm infestations.
Creatures that can become parasites in humans can be divided into the following major groups:
- Worms, from the well-known tapeworm to round, hook, pin and whipworms. Liver and intestinal flukes also belong in this category
- Microscopic parasites, including protozoa and amebae
- External parasites like bed bugs, lice, scabies, crabs, and fleas
- Fungi, like candida or thrush, and tinea (better known as athlete’s foot)
How Do You Know You Have a Parasite?
Depending on the type of parasite, symptoms of parasitic infection might include:
- Chronic digestive problems, especially following a bout of food poisoning. Parasites can often cause intestinal inflammation and may end up destroying the intestinal lining of the gut. Gut symptoms may mimic other diseases like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Celiac or Crohn’s Disease. You might experience pain, bloating, fatigue, weight loss, diarrhea or vomiting
- Aches and pains
- Rashes and skin itching
- Sleeping problems
- General weakness and feeling unwell
- Mental disturbances, including depression, anxiety, behavioral or personality changes and mental fuzziness
- Autoimmune flare-ups
- Exacerbation of existing medical conditions
Many of these symptoms mimic other illnesses, which is why they are so often misdiagnosed.
How Do You Get Infected by Parasites? Why are there parasites in humans?
There are many ways you can end up with a parasitic infection. Parasites can be passed to humans through:
- Contaminated food can transmit the eggs of many parasites, including tapeworms and amoebas.
- Raw or undercooked fish can contain tapeworms, liver flukes, and giant kidney worms.
- The microscopic parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, which is the second-leading cause of death from foodborne illness in the U.S., is caused by eating raw or undercooked pork, lamb or goat.
- Unwashed fruit and vegetables can be infected with whipworms.
- Water can be contaminated by liver, blood and intestinal flukes and microorganisms like giardia.
- Via animals, as worms can be passed to humans from exposure to pigs, raccoons, dogs, and
- Insects, the most notoriously being sleeping sickness which spreads by tsetse flies, but also mosquitos which spread malaria and ticks which spread Lyme disease, fevers, and
- Poor sanitation and fecal-contaminated water
- Sexual contact
- Poor personal hygiene like not washing your hands, increasing the risk or oral/fecal contamination.
How to Get Rid of Parasites
If you suspect you may have a parasite, you should get checked out by your doctor who can prescribe the right treatment. Diagnosis can be made from a simple clinical inspection and skin samples in the case of external parasites or blood and stool sample tests for internal parasites.
It is important to get professional advice to diagnose which parasite you might have to ensure that you get the correct treatment. An improperly diagnosed and treated parasite can have serious long-term implications for your health. Some parasites infestations can be life-threatening.
There are some great cleanses that you can do do create an unfriendly environment for these little buggers. I have personally tried this one. But always make sure to consult with your general practitioner before embarking on any cleanses or supplements. There are practitioners out there who specialize in parasites, I really like Dr. Hulda Clark, and I own her “parasite zapper”, which you can find on her website. You can find more info about the zapper in this little book, do your own investigating.
How Can You Prevent Parasites?
There are a number of steps you can take to minimize your risk of a parasitic infection.
1. Wash your hands
The most important thing you can do to keep parasites at bay is simply to wash your hands, especially after going to the bathroom and before and after preparing food, as well as throughout the day. Studies have shown that using non-antibacterial soap and proper handwashing is more effective than either hand sanitizer or antibacterial soaps which tend to make people complacent. Proper handwashing means:
- Using soap
- Running warm or hot water
- Vigorous scrubbing, including between the fingers, as bacteria and other infectants are removed by friction.
- Washing for at least 20 seconds. A good rule of thumb is to sing Happy Birthday twice, (not necessarily out loud). We learned this one in nursing school.
- Dry your hands thoroughly as bacteria and parasites thrive in moist warm environments. Towels are better than the dryers because they wipe stuff off too!
2. Be aware of your risk
Arm yourself with knowledge and be aware of the local parasites when at home or traveling. Scan newspapers and medical alerts to see if there are current infestations or outbreaks of parasites.
Minimize your risk of exposure to parasites by being careful when swimming in freshwater lakes or rivers. Use insect repellent in mosquito-prevalent areas. After hikes or walks examine your body for ticks. Check your children’s hair regularly for lice.
3. Don’t take risks with your food and drink
Wash fruits and vegetables carefully before you prepare or eat them. Make sure that meats like pork and lamb are well-cooked. If you eat sushi, only buy from restaurants and sushi bars that look clean and well-run.
If you’re traveling in a country where the water supply might be contaminated, don’t eat uncooked food and only drink bottled or boiled water. Carry water purification tablets with you. And if in any doubt at all, don’t eat or drink it!
In the last several years, we’ve witnessed large outbreaks of parasite infections from tainted foods in the West. Though it may be surprising that this can happen in industrialized countries, we can’t be too careful about protecting ourselves and our families from parasites.