You must remember your mother warning you about worms hopping on your stomach if you did not wash your hands. You may still cringe while imagining some stuff wriggling in your body. Well, the odds of that happening are quite many.
Physicians see patients with parasites nearly every day in their clinics. Moreover, it is more than just some wriggly stuff in your stomach as having a parasite comes with a lot of implications.
What is a parasite exactly?
A parasite is an organism living and feeding off another living being. Many of such parasites have a taste for human gut too. Those that take shelter in human beings include roundworms, flatworms, and thorny-headed worms.
Places with poor sanitation where food or drinking water is likely to be contaminated are a stronghold of parasite infection. That is why you would find cases with parasites more in developing countries or rural areas than anywhere else. However, it does not mean that people only in rural areas or developing regions tend to contract parasites.
Main Culprits Behind Parasitic Infections
Flatworms and roundworms are the major reasons for parasite infections. One can find these two worms in various habitats, thus being the reason parasite infection is that common.
You need to remember that these worms may not be seen with the naked eye.
Flukes belong to the family of flatworm. Although humans have lesser chances to contract flukes as compared to animals, they still contract these parasites. You can also become unwitting hosts to these little fellows from freshwater plants and raw watercress. You can even get them by drinking contaminated water.
Flukes make shelter in human intestines, tissues, or even blood. They exist in many forms; however, none can size more than a few inches. Infection from this parasite is not contagious, as its eggs have to mature in specific freshwater snails under favorable conditions, only then it is able to infect some other person.
A tapeworm is also a form of flatworm, which enters your body with contaminated water containing its eggs or larvae. This worm can else find its way into your body through the raw or uncooked meat.
They get into the human body and lodge their heads into the intestinal walls to stay there. They produce eggs while beings there. After the eggs mature, the larvae travel to the other body parts.
Appearing like a long white ribbon, they can reside in the human body for 30 years. As for their size, they can even be 80 feet long.
Hookworms are a type of roundworms that are transmittable through contaminated soil and feces. These worms can penetrate through the skin. Thus, walking barefoot on hookworm-infested soil can make your body their new home.
These roundworms reside in the small intestine by attaching to the intestine wall by a ‘hook’. They can grow up to less than half an inch.
Threadworms, also known as pinworms, are relatively harmless and easily treatable. Mostly, children are their hosts whose colon and rectum are their home once they are fully mature.
The female lays eggs around the anus, mostly at night. That is the reason why your kid complains of an irritating itching around the anus during the night.
One can contract these worms even by touching the eggs. These eggs can enter the human body through clothing, bedding, and even air if the eggs are airborne. Although threadworms are relatively harmless, some researchers have found them in the case of acute appendix
Trichinosis is also a roundworm that travels through animals. Humans catch these worms when they eat undercooked meat containing the larvae. Once entered the human body, these larvae mature in the intestine. After they mature, they reproduce and move to other parts like tissue and muscles.
Symptoms of Parasitic Infection
As mentioned earlier, you may be an unwitting host to a parasite worm. Your oblivion owes to the fact that either there may be no symptoms or they may be too mild to notice.
However, if you undergo these symptoms without any particular reason, you may have a parasite infection.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms like gas, diarrhea, or constipation
- Lack of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- General weakness
- Weight loss
If you have contracted tapeworms, you may face
- Allergic reaction
- Lumps or bumps
- Seizures or other neurological problems
With fluke infection, you may feel:
- Itchy rash
With trichinosis infection, you may experience
- Muscle pain
- Face swelling
- Light sensitivity
Common Parasitic Infections
There are numerous infections that may result from parasites. We have compiled a list of common ones for your ease.
1. Whipworm Infection
It results in Trichuriasis – an infection of the large intestine. It is also known as whipworm infection because of its resemblance to a whip. The culprit behind this infection is a parasite named Trichuris trichiura.
Causes of Whipworm Infection
This infection develops through feces infested with whipworms. Anyone who gets exposed to this feces or ingests dirt or water contaminated with this feces can develop the whipworm infection. Therefore, always wash hands after you have had contact with the dirt. Also, wash fruits or vegetables when you use them as they have also been exposed to dirt before.
Eggs of these parasites remain in the small intestine to hatch and release larvae. The larvae stay inside the small intestine till they mature into adult worms. Only then, the adult worms reside in the large intestine.
Children are the typical victim of this infection. Around 600 to 800 million people across the globe suffer from this disease, which also occurs in animals.
Symptoms of Whipworm Infections
Signs of whipworm infection include:
- Frequent or painful defecation
- Abdominal pain
- Bloody diarrhea
- Sudden weight loss without any apparent reason
- Lack of control over defecation
Risk Factors for Whipworm Infection
Anyone can develop a whipworm infection, but the following factors increase the odds of this infection:
- Regions having hot, humid climate
- Routine exposure to soil containing manure
- Areas with poor sanitation
- Consumption of raw vegetables that came from soil fertilized with manure
Children are more vulnerable to this infection, as they play outdoors and not wash their hands properly before having meals.
You will have to take a stool test for the diagnosis of a whipworm infection.
Doctors mostly recommend an antiparasitic medication like mebendazole and albendazole for the treatment of a whipworm infection. However, you should not take any medication without a doctor’s prescription.
In the case with this infection, roundworms called Trichinella are the main culprits. This roundworm stays inside the intestines till it matures into an adult. After that, it embeds itself into the muscles and causes discomfort and pain.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that physicians diagnose around 10,000 patients with trichinosis every year across the globe.
Causes of Trichinosis Infection
These parasites live inside meat-eating animals like bears, pigs, walruses, foxes, and wild boars. Human contract this infection when they eat raw or uncooked meat from a Trichinella-infected animal.
When a person ingests trichinosis, the acid in his/her stomach melts the cyst, which is the hard covering around the larvae. Once the covering is removed, it becomes easier for the larvae to enter the intestine. The larvae mature and reproduce in the gut. The newly produced larvae are released into the bloodstream from where they migrate to the muscles. When they enter the muscles, they embed into the muscle tissues and live there for a prolonged period.
Symptoms of Trichinosis Infection
Signs of Trichinosis infection depend upon where the larvae reside at the moment. When they are living in your intestine, you may have:
- Abdominal Cramps
When the larvae encroach upon your muscles, you will develop:
- High fever
- Light sensitivity
- Muscle aches and pains
- Facial swelling
- Continuous eye infections
- Unexplained rashes
Your physician may ask about your medical symptoms and take your medical history. There are also some diagnostic tests to ascertain if any larvae are residing in your system.
Apart from these tests, you may have to give a blood sample that can reveal increased levels of white blood cells and the presence of antibodies, both the telltale signs of a Trichinella infection.
Sometimes, Trichinosis does not require any treatment. It may go away within several months after the symptoms breakout without any treatment. However, your doctor may prescribe medication to manage the symptoms and avoid any complications.
As mentioned earlier, pinworms are the most common parasites residing mostly in children’s intestine. Pinworm infection is also called enterobiasis and oxyuriasis. This infection can spread quickly. Adults usually get this infection from pinworm-infected children. This infection does not incur any complications or long-term health effects.
Causes of Pinworm Infection
Pinworm infection is highly contagious. You can even inhale this parasite’s microscopic eggs. When its eggs get inside a human body, they reside inside the intestine before they hatch, mature, and move into other parts of the body.
The adult females migrate to the colon and leave the body through the anus. They also lay eggs around the anus, which cause irritation and itching. Upon scratching the area, the eggs transfer on the hands and remain there for several hours. These hands can transfer the eggs to any place they touch like clothing, toilet seats, clothing, and toys. The eggs can stick on these places for three weeks.
Kids develop this infection because they can put the infected objects to directly to their mouth. However, though rare, adults also develop this infection by inhaling the eggs while shaking off the contaminated bedding or clothing.
Pinworm infection has the tendency to keep coming back or even prolong if not treated. The main reason behind that is the eggs on the anus hatch, and the larvae can go back to affect the intestines where they came from at the first place.
Symptoms of Pinworm Infection
While some people may not experience any sign or too mild symptoms to notice, the common symptoms of Pinworm infection as follows:
- Frequent and irresistible anal itching
- Restless sleep because of the itching
- Finding out pinworms in stool
- Finding out pinworms around the anus
- Rash, pain, or any kind of skin irritation around the anus
Pinworm infection can impact people belonging to all ages and all geographical areas. However, the most vulnerable groups include:
- Children, especially those who go to preschool, daycare, or elementary school
- Children who suck their thumbs
- Caregivers or family members of the infected individuals
- Those who reside in crowded places like hostels
- Individuals including both adults and children who do not care much about regular and thorough hand washing before eating
You will have to conduct a tape test for the diagnosis of Pinworm infection. This test is quite simple. All you have to do is to take a piece of cellophane tape and press its sticky side against the skin around the anus.
As pinworms usually exit the body during the night, you should do this test in the morning. If they are residing in your body, the eggs will stick to the cellophane tape. Take the tape to your doctor, who will examine it under a slide to check if there are any pinworm eggs on it.
Pinworms can be treated by medication and thorough cleaning of the house. Moreover, the family members and caregivers of the infected child should also obtain treatment for the Pinworm infection along with implementing a specific hygiene and house-cleaning regimen.
Home remedies can also help with this infection like consuming coconut oil, raw garlic, and raw carrots. However, no scientific study backs these remedies hitherto.
Hygienic practices that your mother kept fixating on are the primary prevention against
developing any parasite infection. As the dictum goes, prevention is better than cure. So of all the medications and prescriptions, the best one is to remain clean and observe personal hygiene. That is the key to lead a healthy life, especially when it comes to preventing the parasitic worms wriggling inside your body.