The thought of having intestinal parasites can be terrifying. Who wants to have strange organisms living in their gut?
Surprisingly, having them is not that uncommon. While the risk of parasitic infection is higher in rural countries, millions of people are also affected by them in developing countries, such as the United States. Parasites are actually to blame for thousands of hospitalizations every year as well as digestive symptoms, insomnia or even skin issues.
Which parasites are most common?
When people mention intestinal parasites, they are usually referring to worms that feed off of the food within your gut. Intestinal parasites usually fall into two categories – flatworms or roundworms. Some common parasites that are found in humans include tapeworms, pinworms, hookworms, trichinosis worms and flukes.
One common parasite found all around the world is the tapeworm. They can infect you in several ways, including accidentally drinking the tapeworm eggs or by undercooked meat. A less common way to contact this infection is through human fecal matter. This usually occurs when a person eats food that has been contaminated by another person, which is why it is good to wash your hands after using the bathroom.
Once you have ingested the tapeworm larvae, it attaches itself into your intestinal wall, where it will develop into an adult while absorbing nutrients in your gut. They can live there undetected for up to 30 years and grow up to 80 feet long. Whenever they die, you will either absorb them in your intestines or simply pass the worm.
Commonly found in children, pinworms are tiny roundworms that can be found in the colon and rectum. Because these lightweight eggs can easily survive on clothing and bedding, people can accidentally ingest these parasites by inhaling them or putting them in their mouths. This is why, besides children, they are easily spread to caregivers in institutions. They are not spread through pets.
Luckily, pinworms are easy to treat and are usually harmless. They usually remain in the intestine until they hatch, then move down into the colon. Eventually, they make their way out of the body through the anus.
Hookworm infections spread through contaminated soil. People become infected by walking barefoot, commonly in warm or moist climates.
After the larva pierces your skin, it will travel small intestine. Here, it attaches itself to your intestinal wall with a hook and feeds off of your blood. To ensure that it can remain for long periods of time, it will release a substance that will keep your blood from clotting. Eventually, this can cause you to become anemic.
If you enjoy pork or wild game, be sure it is fully cooked before eating it. Trichinosis can be found in their meat when it is contaminated.
Once these roundworm larvae are in your system, it will stay into your GI tract until adulthood. Once these adult worms reproduce, their larvae spread to muscle cells and tissue throughout your body.
Flukes are another flatworm that can infect you, but this is more likely to be contracted by animals than humans. These worms are frequently found in freshwater plants or raw fish.
Once ingested, flukes can be found in the liver, gallbladder or bile duct. If left untreated, it can cause serious illness, but most people do not show symptoms. These parasites can live in your body for up to 30 years.
Some common symptoms of parasites include:
- decreased appetite
- weight loss
- muscle pain
- light sensitivity
No matter your location, it is possible to contract intestinal parasites. Dr. Todd Watts from Microbe Formulas explains that parasites can come from many sources, such as the water we drink and use to bathe, the ground, our pets, blood transfusions, and some insects. If you are one of the millions of people infected, you may be wondering what you can do to treat parasites.
The main way to treat parasites is through an antiparasitic medication. These medications will kill the infection, then help them pass through your system. Usually, they are administered through a certain number of doses, dependant on the type of parasite you have. It’s best to complete all rounds of medication to ensure success.
Millions of people are affected by parasites all over the world. While those affected may experience mild to no symptoms, if left untreated, they can potentially cause more severe systems in the future. You can prevent them through careful hygiene practices or thoroughly cooking your meat. However, if you are infected by intestinal parasites, you can be easily treated through medicines.