Taking a Look at Parasitic Infections and Diseases

Gastrointestinal parasites in seven primates of the Taï National Park - Helminths(a) Ternidens sp., (b) Anatrichosoma sp.,(c) Subulura sp.,(d) Ancylostoma sp.,(e) Oesophagostomum sp.,(f) Chitwoodspirura sp.,(g) Strongyloides sp., (h) Dicrocoelium sp.,(i) Trichuris sp.,(j) Capillariidae Gen. sp. 1,(k) Protospirura muricola,(l) Trichostrongylus sp.,(m) Capillariidae Gen. sp. 2,(n) Strongyloides stercoralis (rhabditoid larva). Scale bars: a–m = 10 μm; n = 25 μm.

The human body has thousands of different bacteria and microorganisms living inside it. The wonderful part about this is that they work on a mutually beneficial relationship by aiding the functions in the body, and in turn, being able to survive with ease.

However, there can be times when the microorganisms that come into the body aren’t so gracious. Parasitic infections occur because of a negative relationship between the microorganisms and the body of the host.  In this case, these parasites rely on the host in order to survive, but they also cause great harm by invading organs, reproducing, growing and releasing toxins within the body.

The Major Parasitic Organisms

Helminths Parasite

There is a wide range of parasitic organisms which can infect the human body. Despite this diversity, they can be classified into three major groups, namely:

  • Protozoa – These are single-cell microorganisms that multiply and live inside the body. They are hard to detect with the naked eye. A common example of a protozoa infection includes giardiasis. This is caused by the protozoa microorganism, Giardia, which enters the body through infected water.
  • Helminths – These are multi-cell organisms, which can live either outside or inside the body with ease. They usually enter the body through ingestion of their eggs. Examples of helminths include flatworms, tapeworms, roundworms and more.
  • Ectoparasites – These are also known as multi-cell organisms but they largely live or stay on the outside of the body. Ectoparasites are also found on other hosts such as cats, dogs, livestock and more. Common examples of ectoparasites include fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, mites and more.

All three of the organisms mentioned above can cause infection of one form or the other, which can harm the host. Certain parasitic microorganisms also appear to work together which makes them easier to spread. For example, Mosquitoes are ectoparasites that can carry the bacteria which causes malaria. Malaria is a parasitic protozoan and easily gets transmitted to the humans that the mosquitoes come in contact with.

Protozoa and helminths, in particular, can also be spread when they become foodborne. These microorganisms are easy to spread to other people from different sources such as contaminated soil, waste matter such as feces of animals or humans, undercooked or raw food, contaminated or polluted water and even blood from an infected person. Even fruits and vegetables grown in infected soil can spread the microorganisms to someone.

Risk of Getting Parasitic Infections

Parasitic infections are more common in tropical or subtropical regions, but they also thrive in the United States. The risk that people face with parasitic infections is dependent on various factors, including the kind of parasite a person has come in contact with.

The overall health of a person (specifically, the health of their immune system), travel history and hygiene habits make a marked difference here. While some people might not be at risk at all to parasitic infections, others might be more susceptible to them based on these factors.

The following are various scenarios which increase the odds of a person developing a parasitic infection:

  • If a person is already ill or they have a compromised immune system.
  • If a person travels a lot in the subtropical and tropical regions of the world.
  • If a person consumes food which is improperly prepared and made from infected ingredients.
  • If there is a lack of clean drinking water and non-filtered water being consumed regularly.
  • If a person swims frequently in ponds, lakes or rivers that are infected and can contain more than one kind of parasitic microorganism.
  • If a person works with soil or indulges in farming of fruits and vegetables regularly.
  • If a person works in child-care. Children are not always the most hygienic and can pass on the eggs of ringworms, pinworms or more. Same is true for nursing homes.
  • If a person has an outdoor pet such as a cat which can pass on the parasite to their owners.

All these scenarios can contribute to a person developing a parasitic infection. Immediate medical attention is always necessary because by the time the symptoms become visible or known, the infection might have progressed to an advanced state.

Certain infections also have no proper cure such as toxoplasmosis. In this condition, a cured person might still possess non-dormant parasitic strains of toxoplasmosis which can be passed on to their children and create complications in pregnancy and child development.

Practicing Prevention

Due to the common prevalence of these infections, it is a good idea to practice precaution and adopt a few healthy habits that can reduce the chances of getting parasitic infections. The following are some simple habits that you can apply with ease:

  • Wash hands frequently, particularly if you have been playing with your pets, handling dirt and soil or after using the bathroom.
  • Always cook food at the recommended temperature so as to kill all the bacteria in the meat.
  • Wash all kitchen utensils, appliances and surfaces that come in contact with raw meat.
  • Avoid drinking unfiltered water and try to drink filtered or bottled water if you are traveling. The CDC has recommendations you should follow for just about every country in the world.
  • Do not go into lakes, pools, ponds or rivers unless you know that they are completely unpolluted. Even then, avoid swallowing any water.
  • When cleaning pet litter or feces, always use gloves and wash hands thoroughly
  • Always wash all raw fruits and vegetables, particularly the ones that are meant to be eaten with the skin on.
  • When eating raw meat in dishes such as sushi and Carpaccio, always go to a reputable restaurant.

Keep in mind that parasitic infections can occur even when you are practicing these healthy precautions. In this case, if you suspect that you or someone else might have developed a parasitic infection, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Early detection can play a vital role in preventing the infection from becoming life-threatening and also help to stunt the spread of the infection to others.