Parasites are organisms that live on or inside a host for feeding. There are different types of parasites. Parasites like tapeworms, ringworms and liver fluke live inside the host for food. They are known as Endoparasites. Ectoparasites are parasites that live on the host and depend on the host for feeding. Such parasites include lice and fleas.
In most cases, Ectoparasites have a relationship with Epiparasites through hyperparasitism. Epiparasites live in the body of ectoparasites and depend on the host of the ectoparasite for food. For instance, mosquitoes carry single-celled organisms called Plasmodium, which relies on the body of humans, through the mosquito for food. This also happens in fleas where the protozoa in the flea depend on the parasitic activities of the flea on the dog for food.
In the human body, parasites manifest in different sizes and shapes. They are responsible for a wide range of diseases. For example, some parasites depend on the red blood cells for food which causes anemia while others consume the food you have just eaten leaving you weak and unable to gain weight.
How do parasites get on and in the body?
In ectoparasites, parasites can get on your body in various ways. Ectoparasites attributed to the hygiene and the nature of the area that you spend your time most. In swampy areas with stagnant water, for instance, you are more likely to get infections through mosquito attack.
In endoparasites, the most common ways of contracting a parasitic infection are through what you eat. In the article “Top Tips for Parasite Prevention: What to Avoid and Where Not to Go,” Dr. Todd Watts explains that to prevent parasite infections, the key is to take care of your immune system and to eat a healthy diet free of processed foods and sugar. Precisely, the parasites get inside the body through;
• Undercooked meat which can cause tapeworm and liver fluke infection in the body
• Contaminated water, which can cause Guinea worms, amoeba, among other parasites
• Unclean and contaminated vegetables and fruits
• Contaminated food
• Exposed skin, especially the feet can bring about intake of roundworms and other Strongyloides in the body. Strongyloides are parasites that enter the body through the skin.
What are the symptoms of a Parasitic Infection?
Once a parasite releases toxins in the human bloodstream, signs of a parasitic infection start to manifest. The most common symptoms include;
• Diarrhea that is not associated with another disease in your body
• Food poisoning leading to uncomfortable moments with your digestive tract
• Lack of sleep at night and constant fatigue
• Constipation, bloating, gas, and nausea. Any symptoms that are related to the Irritable Bowel Syndrome
• Skin irritations, eczema, rosacea and unexplained rashes on the skin
• Painful joints and aching
• Being always hungry
• A diagnosis of iron deficient anemia.
Parasites commonly affect the digestive system. However, not all parasites affect the digestive system. Some parasites can cause skin infections, brain infections, eye infections among other infections in the body. Acanthamoeba is an example of an eye parasite. It can damage your vision and enters the body through contact with the cornea in marine environments. Others include Loiasis, Toxoplasmosis among other parasites.
Symptoms of a parasitic eye infection include;
• Excessive eye pain
• Inflammation of the eye
• Light sensitivity
• Small spots called floaters in the line of vision
• Crusting of the eyelashes and eyelids
• Scarring of the Retina
• Blurry vision
Pork tapeworm is linked to a brain infection. When the eggs hatch in the body of the host, they hatch into larvae which are distributed in all parts of the body including the cerebrospinal fluid. The larvae then form cysts which block the cerebrospinal fluid flow, which causes brain pressure. In advanced cases, the cysts can rupture in the cerebrospinal fluid causing meningitis.
Symptoms of brain pressure due to a parasitic infection include;
• Headaches and seizures
• Drastic changes in mood and personality
• Signs of mental impairment
In most cases, brain infection symptoms manifest when the larvae die and trigger swelling and inflammation.
How do you test for parasitic infections?
1. Parasitic stool test
The stool test checks for eggs or ova of parasites in your stool. It is the most common and most basic method of parasite test
2. Blood tests
When a parasite infects the body, it produces antibodies to fight the foreign organism that has invaded it. A serology test can be used to check any antibodies produced in the blood. A blood test can also be done by examination of a blood smear with a microscope. Directly, a medical expert can check for availability of parasites in the bloodstream.
3. Colonoscopy and Endoscopy
This procedure is advanced when a basic stool test does not yield any results. A tube is inserted into your mouth or rectum to check for any signs of parasitic infection in your tract.
What are the common diseases caused by parasites?
Anemia can be caused by an infestation of hookworms in the body. Hookworms are typically one centimeter in length and pin thick. Hookworms rely on sucking blood directly from the host. When conditions are pristine, hookworms can multiply rapidly, and a huge infestation may result in losing too much blood. As a result, many nutrients are lost, causing iron-deficient anemia. Anemia can be accompanied by diarrhea, constipation, and fever.
Commonly known as bilharzia, it is caused by flatworms known as blood flukes in the family Schistosomatidae. Bilharzia is characterized by the inflammation of the bladder, liver, and intestines. It is common in areas with poor hygiene and areas with a lack of infrastructure to support proper Medicare. Bilharzia is also common in freshwater environments with snails that carry the worms.
Bilharzia is divided into three main types; the Japonica, mainly found in Japan, Philippines, and China, S.mansoni, which is found primarily in Africa and the Carribean, and the S. haematobium which is commonly found in some parts of Northern Africa and the Middle East.
Scabies is caused by mites which are averagely 0.3mm long. The female burrows through the skin and lays her eggs. The eggs as they develop causes an itchy feeling which makes the host scratch the body a lot. At advanced stages, the skin can be damaged at the point of itching to thereby create a channel for germs to enter the body.
Whereas many parasitic infections are treatable, it is vital to identify symptoms early enough before the infestation gets heavy. At the early stages, parasitic infections are easy to manage.