By: Diana Fleeter, MS Candidate
How Do People End Up With a Parasite Infection?
Have you been told you have a parasite infection? Afraid of contracting a parasite? You’re not alone. Millions of Americans contract at least one type of parasite in their lifetime. Many realize they have it, and many do not, but catching it can be key to solving your health woes.
Although many become infected with parasites while traveling abroad, far more individuals pick up parasites right in their own area.
What is a parasite?
A parasite is any organism that feeds off of another organism. Unfortunately, humans are no exception. Many parasites take up residence and feed off vital nutrients needed throughout the body. It is possible to live for many years with a parasite, yet be completely unaware that there’s one present. In cases where someone is symptomatic from a parasite infection, we often see patients going misdiagnosed for years before the parasite is discovered and treated. This can lead to years of patients dealing with ongoing digestive complaints, as well as increase the risk of damage done to the digestive system.
How do you contract a parasite?
From other Humans (gasp!):
Parasite eggs pass easily from human to human. Using the restroom without washing your hands allows parasite eggs to infect anything else touched. If you touch an infected object, the eggs can be passed to you. Physical contact with another human, such as hugging, kissing, shaking hands, or sexual contact can also cause eggs to be passed.
Animals, including your family pet, may be infected. Handling an animal may transfer parasite eggs to you. This includes petting and grooming them.
Often parasite infections come from handling raw and under-cooked meats. Raw pork products and sushi often are the biggest offenders. However, any raw or under-cooked meat may be a source. When handling raw meat, be sure to wash hands thoroughly to decrease the chance of infection.
Fresh produce imported from outside of the US often carries parasites as many countries use cow manure on their crops (which frequently contains parasites that can be spread to the growing produce). All fresh fruit and vegetables must be thoroughly washed before consuming to prevent infection.
There’s a reason you commonly hear the phrase “don’t drink the water” when traveling to certain foreign countries. Parasites commonly infect many foreign bodies of water. Most rivers, lakes, and streams right here in the US contain parasites as well. Swimming or being exposed to water that contains parasites can cause an infection too.
What are the signs and symptoms of a parasitic infection?
Signs and Symptoms of a Parasitic Infection include:
- Abdominal pain
- Frequent gas
- Chronic fatigue
- Muscle aches and pain
- Muscle cramping
- Immune system problems
- Joint Inflammation
- Disturbed sleep
- Nervousness and irritability
- Lethargy and low energy
- Dry and itchy skin
- Foggy brain
- Weight gain or loss
- Uncontrollable cravings for sugar
- Food intolerances
- Chronic vitamin and mineral deficiencies
Each symptom can significantly affect the quality of life for those infected. Be sure to request your health care provider to test you for parasite infections if you’ve been suffering from many of the above symptoms.
Steps to decrease your risk of contracting a parasite:
- When traveling, drink clean, bottled water
- Use uncontaminated water to wash all fruits and vegetables that are eaten raw
- Wash your hands frequently, especially after being with animals, touching contaminated food and water, and after using the bathroom
- Avoid consuming unpasteurized dairy products.
- Cook food to recommended, safe temperatures and store food appropriately.
- Clean all kitchen dishes, cutting boards, and utensils thoroughly after use.
- Avoid swallowing water in lakes, rivers, ponds, streams, and swimming pools.
- If you are pregnant, change cat litter boxes daily.
Traveled abroad recently? Had a recent bout of food poisoning? Exhibiting many of the symptoms above? If you think you could have a parasite, the first step is getting testing to determine the type and degree of infection. This will help to best determine how to address such an infection. With the proper testing, foods, supplements, and in some cases medication, you can heal quickly and get back to feeling your best self. If you think you have a parasite infection or any other infection, contacting your health care provider to be tested is the first step.