Intestinal Parasitic Infections and Their Treatment

One of the most prevalent diseases, intestinal parasitic Infections affects an estimated one- third of the world’s population. While the majority of the infected population lives in tropical and sub-tropical developing countries with poor living and low socio-economic conditions, people in developed countries are not immune to these infections. According to data provided by the World Health Organization, over 1000 million people are infected with roundworms, 900 million infected with hookworms, 500 million infected with whipworms and entamoeba respectively, and around 200 million infected with Giardia. Efforts to control intestinal parasitic infections have helped; however, the disease is still one of the leading causes of mortality globally.

Sources of Parasitic Infections

Poor hygiene coupled with the health status of food handlers is a major cause of food contamination in developing nations. If left unchecked, parasites and bacteria in the food can have devastating effects on the consumer. While food safety is prevalent in the western world, parasitic infections still occur. Some of the more unexpected sources of intestinal parasitic infections in developed nations include:

Raw Food – Parasites can be transmitted to the food through contact with food service workers. A cut on the finger could, for example, allow a blood-borne parasite to contaminate the food. Fish, both fresh and saltwater contain parasites such as tapeworm or roundworm larvae. Eating raw fish allows the larvae to enter your system and infect you. Similarly, pork contains a rather large variety of parasites and should only be eaten fully cooked.

Contaminated water – Although bottled/filtered water may be safe, ingesting contaminated water while swimming can cause parasites to enter your body.

Pets and Pests – Pets can be parasite transmitters either through direct contact or by spreading pests like lice, ticks, and fleas. These pests further transmit a wide variety of parasites to humans. 

Soil – Coming into contact with contaminated soil while gardening, playing or just sitting can allow various Protozoa and Helminths to infect the body.

Sex – Sexually Transmitted Diseases like Trichomonasis are caused by Trichomas vaginalis, a Protozoan parasite.     

Medical Intervention – Blood transfusions and contaminated equipment can be a cause for parasitic infections transmitted to the receiver.  

Your Diet Makes a Difference

Contaminated food when eaten without washing, raw or undercooked can transmit parasitic infections to your system. However, once you are infected, certain foods fuel parasitic growth within your system. Topping the list of foods not to eat if you have a parasite infection from sugar. All living organisms derive their energy through sugar in different forms. Parasites in your body are no different – they need sugar to gain energy and reproduce. While it is impossible to remove sugar from your diet and in the process kill the parasites, cutting down of foods that are high in sugar content does help. 

A balanced diet, low in processed foods and refined sugar and high in nutrients and fiber will help cleanse your system of the infection. 

Foodborne Parasites and Bacteria

Unfortunately, foodborne parasites and bacteria are not visible to the naked eye. Given below are a few of the pests that can be found in your daily food, symptoms of infection and ways to prevent them from infecting you.

  1. coli – STEC (Shiga toxin-producing E. coli) is generally found in beef. Undercooked beef can cause an infection resulting in fever, vomiting, stomach cramps, and bloody diarrhea. While there are no medications to treat this infection, you can prevent it by cooking beef thoroughly. This requires the internal temperature in the beef to touch 160 degrees F. Another precautionary measure is to clean all surfaces where beef is prepared and not use the same vessel for other cooking without washing it. 

Giardia – Found in pork, wild game, and lamb, Giardia is also prevalent in food or water that has been contaminated with the infected animal or human feces. An infection causes flatulence, cramps, nausea, and diarrhea. Prevention methods include cooking your meat thoroughly, washing your hands frequently, drinking water from trusted sources and ensuring that you do not ingest water when swimming.

Tapeworm – While many different types of tapeworms can infect your body, most of them enter your system from eating raw or undercooked beef, pork, and fish that have already been contaminated. Tapeworms can live and grow in your system without you realizing their existence. Symptoms of infection could include weight loss, irritation of the anus and pain in the abdominal region. Prevention includes cooking meat thoroughly and washing vegetables and fruits before ingesting or cooking. 

Roundworm – Roundworm infection happens when vegetables and fruits infested with their eggs are consumed by humans. The eggs are transmitted through contact with contaminated soil. While symptoms are nearly nonexistent, they may include shortness of breath, coughing, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Infections can be prevented by washing fruits and vegetables before you eat or cook them. 

Toxoplasma gondii – A microscopic parasite, Taxoplasma gondii spreads through cat feces. This is because the parasite can only breed inside a cat. Untreated water or food contaminated with cat feces, along with handling a pet cat’s litter box are all likely sources of contracting the infection. The symptoms of this infection are similar to those of flu. You can prevent infection by wearing gloves when handling your pet’s litter box, washing your hands after touching a cat and thoroughly washing food before eating or cooking. 

Threadworms – Generally infecting children, threadworm infections are transmitted due to poor hygiene, including eating food without washing hands. Spreading easily, threadworm infections can occur in adults also. The most common symptom of this infection is itching around the anus of the infected person. Unfortunately, scratching the itch and not washing the hands can lead to the eggs and worms being transmitted to others in contact. The prevention of this infection is through proper hygiene.

Cryptosporidium – A parasite protected by its hard-outer shell, cryptosporidium is found in milk, fruit juice, and fresh produce. Contact with feces of an infected person can also cause infection. Symptoms include cramps, upset stomach, and watery diarrhea. Prevention of this infection involves drinking pasteurized or boiled milk, washing all fresh produce thoroughly and proper hygiene. 

Staying Infection Free

While it may be nearly impossible to stay free from intestinal parasitic infections, taking precautionary measures will help in reducing infestations and spreading the infection to other members of the family.