Anyone who has ever picked up a newspaper, watched the news on television, or been entertained by a movie, must surely realize that fear of the unknown sells advertising and products. The news thrives on reporting the bad news. Sure they might have one story that highlights a single instance of someone doing good in the community, but only in limited amounts. Movies, television shows, and soap operas, thrive on cliff hangers at the end of the season to get you back for the next season, only because of your fear of not knowing what happened.
The various social media sites, which are little more than feeding grounds for fear are ripe with concocted stories. Almost weekly there are postings on social media sites involving parasite/worm treatments for those visiting or living in Mexico. Many believe that they must take a parasite/worm treatment every year and children every 6 months. The majority of the replies stated that this is bad advice and that if someone felt ill, they should seek medical treatment from a hospital immediately. After all, one could go to the Red Cross Hospital in Mexico for $100 pesos ($5.27 USD) have all the blood and stool tests done in an hour for $450 pesos ($23.72 USD).
There are hundreds of other posts on Facebook and other social media sites about this myth of taking medicines to prevent parasite illness. It is a myth, simply because no one treatment could possibly prevent all of the parasite illnesses in a single form, as there are hundreds. Parasitic infections can be caused by three types of organisms: protozoa. helminths. ectoparasites. It is estimated that there are between 75,000 and 300,000 helminth species parasitizing the vertebrates. There is no credible way of estimating how many parasitic protozoa, fungi, bacteria, and viruses exist.
This is exactly why everyone should have regularly scheduled appointments with their physicians where they could have their blood and stool tested for not only parasites but other problems that might occur. The sooner you find out if there are problems the better the chance of recovery.
Parasites be the cause of nightmares for many people who become infected. There is nothing worse than pulling a 12-inch worm from your butt and not knowing how many more there could be. These organisms take up residence in their human hosts and feed on the nutrients of the person, causing both minor ailments as well as serious and sometimes life-threatening illness.
The common thought is that parasitic illnesses are something to be feared when on vacation in other locales, especially developing and third-world countries, which Mexico is certainly neither. This is unfounded, as the USA Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued a report that stated parasites are more commonly found in the USA.
Millions of people in the USA develop parasitic infections and symptoms that often go unnoticed or are misdiagnosed. These microscopic creatures are typically picked up through food and water. An infection can lead to serious health problems, including seizures, blindness, pregnancy complications, heart failure and even death.
Although the thought of parasites is both terrifying and rarely talked about, parasitical infection is undeniably prevalent. Unfortunately, due to the lack of knowledge or embarrassment, many infections go misdiagnosed or undiagnosed, causing a wide variety of chronic symptoms.
Common Causes of Parasites
- Poor diet high in sugar, refined grains, unhealthy fats and processed foods
- Prescription medications including frequent use of antibiotics, steroids or birth control
- Chronic stress (weakens digestion and immunity)
- Drinking water from a contaminated source, such as a pool or ocean
- Contaminated foods including raw meat or unwashed fruits and veggies
- Improper hand washing after using the toilet
- Exposure from a pet (usually through fecal matter)
- Lowered immunity
Since parasites can infect virtually all areas of the body, the list of symptoms come in a wide variety to say the least. These tiny invaders can infect numerous areas including the colon, small intestine, blood, mucosal lining, brain, liver, kidneys, bladder, muscles, skin, joints, eyes, and beyond.
Below is a non-exhaustive list of common symptoms of parasitical infection. These symptoms can also be caused by many different disorders, making detection difficult.
Common Symptoms of Parasites
- Chronic gas and bloating
- Intestinal cramping
- IBS-like symptoms
- Diarrhea and/or constipation
- Peptic ulcer or gastritis
- Chronic inflammation in the GI tract
- Increased or decreased hunger
- Chronic fatigue or weakness
- Malabsorption of nutrients
- Change of mood
- Anxiety, depression, irritability
- Mental fog
- Insomnia or trouble with sleep
- Rectal or vaginal itching
- Unexplained rash, hives or skin irritation/inflammation
- Aching muscles and/or joints
- Unexplained headaches
- Recurring yeast infection or UTI
- Heavy coating on the tongue
- Teeth marks on the perimeter of the tongue (sign of malapsorption)
- Long lines on the nails (sign of malapsorption)
- Brittle nails
- Puffy, redness around nails
- White spots on the nails
- Chronic allergies
- Lowered immunity
- Eye floaters
Thankfully, however, it’s possible to treat infections caused by these unwanted guests. Parasites can usually be detected with a blood test or through stool analysis, and treated with specific anti-parasitic drugs or antibiotics.
Common Parasitic Infections
Here are five of the most common parasitic infections, according to the CDC:
More than 300,000 USA residents are infected with Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease, and more than 300 Chagas infected babies are born every year. Chagas disease is transmitted through a bite from the triatomine bug, which then deposits its feces in the skin opening. Chagas disease can cause long-term digestive, cardiac and neurological complications. Death from the infection is often caused by heart attack. However, if caught early, the condition is easily cured with medication.
This parasitic infection, caused by the taenia solium tapeworm, makes its home in human tissues such as the brain and muscles. Larval cysts from the parasite form in the body and can cause a number of complications, including seizures. There are at least 1,000 hospitalizations for cysticercosis per year in the U.S. This tapeworm infection is often the result of eating uncooked pork that contains larval cysts.
Approximately, 13.9 percent of the U.S. population has antibodies against this parasitic infection. Sadly, the rest of us are at risk for for acquiring it through roundworms often found in the intestines of dogs and cats. About 14 percent of Americans have had exposure to toxocara, and at least 70 people die from the infection each year. According to the CDC, most of the infections are in children and many suffer blindness due to related eye disease.
Toxoplasma is often called the “cat poop parasite,” since it’s frequently caused by close contact with a friendly feline. In the U.S., more than 60 million people are chronically infected with toxoplasma gondii. The parasite is also found in undercooked meat and even some unwashed fruits and vegetables. Health experts say toxoplasma can put pregnant women at risk for birth defects. Symptoms of this parasitic infection include swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches and eye complications. If left untreated these problems can become chronic.
In the U.S., trichomonias is an incredibly common and curable sexually transmitted disease, though it can also increase one’s risk for developing other STDs. The protozoan parasite affects 3.7 million people in the United States. However, only about 30 percent of people will actually develop symptoms, which can include itching and burning in the genital area, pain during urination and discharge. The parasitic infection is treated successfully with prescription antibiotics.
The USA Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that anyone can be at risk for a variety of infectious and non-infectious diseases. Parasitic illnesses can be acquired:
- through ingestion of contaminated food or water,
- by vector-borne transmission, or
- through person-to-person contact.
Contaminated food and drink are common sources for the introduction of infection into the body. The table below shows some of the more common parasitic infections that can be acquired from contaminated food and drink, as well as a few of the less common parasitic diseases that individuals are at risk for acquiring. The risk of acquiring these other protozoa and helminths varies greatly by region. Many infectious diseases transmitted in food and water can also be acquired directly through the fecal-oral route.
Parasitic Illnesses That Can Be Acquired During Travel*
FROM CONTAMINATED FOOD AND WATER
- Trichinellosis (trichinosis)
- Taenia infection
FROM VECTOR-BORNE TRANSMISSION
- Chagas disease
- Lymphatic filariasis
- African sleeping sickness
*This list is not comprehensive.
Avoiding Health Problems
Individuals can take a number of simple steps to avoid potential health problems from parasitic illnesses.
- contact their physicians when they notice any unusual problems to schedule an appointment
- obtain blood and stool test on a regular basis
- obtain vaccinations and prophylactic medications as indicated, and
- address any special needs.
Herbal and Folk Remedy Treatment for Parasites
There are many who are of the belief that everyone from the common cold to cancer can be cured with herbs and/or folk remedies. And, while some have apparently been beneficial for a variety of common illnesses, they do not do much good on their own. Most people who believe in these alternative treatments also understand the need for following the advice to avoid parasitic illnesses, having a proper diet, exercise and testing performed by a qualified physician.