There is a myth that parasitic diseases exist only in developing countries but the fact is that it affects people all over the world even in developed countries like the US. Moreover, standard testing for parasites produces negative results which makes it all the more difficult to detect. Though a parasitic may sound scary they are treatable. Knowing the signs and symptoms of a parasite disease can help in terms of treatment.
What are parasites?
Organisms that live on or in a host and get its food feeding and harming the host is called a parasite. These parasites are tiny and feed on the nutrition of the host leaving it weak and undernourished. When left untreated it can lead to the death of the host but if found early the infections can be treated. There are three categories of parasites:
- Protozoa: These live in the tissues, intestines or blood of the human. They are single-celled organisms and are very tiny.
- Helminths: These look like worms with thorny heads and are worms like tapeworms, roundworms, etc.
- Ectoparasites: These are parasites that attach or get stuck into the skin. Ticks, lice, mites, and fleas are some of the examples.
How Do Parasites Get Into You?
Parasites can be ingested into the body in various ways. Though the most common way to contract it in developing countries is contaminated water they are various other ways too. It can be ingested when you eat undercooked meat, veggies or contaminated fruits. A few of the parasites enter the body when you walk barefoot. It can also be contracted through:
- Having an immune system that is already compromised
- Traveled or stayed to regions where parasites are common
- Consuming contaminated drinking water
- Swimming in lakes, ponds or rivers where parasites are present
- Working in places with constant contact with feces
- Spreads from an already infected person who does not wash his/her hands after using the restroom.
- Pet cats can spread it when it comes in contact with infected rodents
Signs And Symptoms Of A Parasitic Infection
The signs and symptoms of a parasite are mainly due to the release of the toxins into the bloodstream. Are you confused about, which parasite symptoms you have, no worries you can consult your physician to understand better? The treatment for it also varies accordingly. Some of the general signs of a parasitic infection are:
- Weight loss: Weight loss can happen for many reasons but one of the main symptoms of having parasites in the body is losing pounds inexplicably. The reason for this is, the worms that are in the intestines eat all the nutritious food leading to loss of weight. Along with that it also causes stomach upset and loss of appetite.
- Swollen limbs: Nematode worms can cause a disease called elephantiasis or Lymphatic Filariasis. This disease has not many symptoms but can cause visible swelling in the limbs and the genitals as it obstructs the lymphatic vessels. If you have traveled to tropical regions or have been living in a country with a tropical climate and have swelling then it can be a sign. It is essential to visit a doctor immediately after there is a swelling in the limb or other areas of the body.
- Itchy skin: If you have traveled abroad or live in unhealthy areas and have itchy skin it could be a hookworm infection in your stomach. The eggs of these are found in feces or can spread from an infected person. It can also happen when you walk barefoot on contaminated soil. When the eggs or the larvae penetrate it can cause rashes on the skin and also itchiness. It is also the response of the immunity when the larvae migrate. Contact a doctor immediately if you have such symptoms and note that it can be treated easily.
- You are spending too much time in the bathroom: This is another common symptom when a person is infected by a parasite. It can happen when you drink infected water, eat undercooked or raw food which is infected. One can also contract it when you touch the surfaces like bathroom handles, diapers, etc that have the Giardia. The infected person can have gas, dehydration, abdominal cramps, smelly, watery and diarrhea, and gas. The symptoms can start after a week or two of contraction.
- Chronic cough: As per a health newsletter by CDC, if you have a cough it can be more serious than you anticipated, especially for people who live in the Midwest. These parasites are found in uncooked crab or crayfish and lives in the lungs. Some of the symptoms of infections are chronic cough with blood in sputum, pain in the chest, fever, fluid in the chest or fever. If you have any of these symptoms that there is a possibility of a parasitic attack.
- Uncommon vaginal discharge: If you see unusual vaginal discharge along with some of the symptoms mentioned above it can be due to protozoa called Trichomonas Vaginalis. It is also a common sexually transmitted disease with, out of the ordinary vaginal discharge, feeling uncomfortable when urinating, soreness, itching, and redness.
- Malaria: If you have traveled abroad recently and have flu-like symptoms but not flu then it can be malaria. It is a protozoal infection that infects the blood and results in chills and fever. Other symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, headache, joint and muscle pain. Severe infection can lead to spleen enlargement, kidney or lung dysfunction, low platelet count and low blood sugar.
- No symptoms: There are some parasitic infections that have no symptoms at all. If you have traveled abroad recently or think that you have an infection it is best to consult a doctor as soon as you can. The doctor will conduct some tests which include blood and fecal tests, X-rays or colonoscopy.
It is essential to get the parasitic infection screened as it can lead to severe illness as it can infect all the organs of the body. These parasites thrive at the expense of the host and hence should be treated immediately. The treatment for this is done with other antiparasitic medicines and giving lots of fluids to maintain hydration.