Parasitic infections – What are they?

parasitic infections

Parasites are small infectious organisms that need other organisms to survive. Some parasites do not affect their host much, but some invade their tissue or organ system and cause infections. These are parasitic infections.

Parasitic infections have caused too much burden of disease on developing countries. The most common parasitic infection is malaria that causes nearly 400 thousand deaths per year, and most of them are from Sub-Saharan Africa.

What are the symptoms of parasitic infection?

The symptoms of parasitic infections depend upon the type of the parasite: however, the most common symptoms are:

  • Allergies
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Sleeping problems
  • Loss of appetite
  • Redness of skin
  • Dehydration 
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes

What are the causes of parasitic infections?

As the name indicates, parasitic infections are caused by parasites, and the most common types of parasites are:

Protozoa

Ecto-parasites

Helminths

Protozoa are single-celled and microscopic organisms. They can cause many infections in the human body – like plasmodium is malaria-causing protozoa. Plasmodium enters the human body through the bite of a female Anopheles mosquito. It invades the red blood cells and causes the symptoms of malaria. They usually divide and reside within their host.

Ecto-parasites: Ecto means outer, so the parasites that live outside the body of the host are called ectoparasites. It includes mosquitoes, ticks, mites, fleas, and lice. 

Helminths: These are usually known as worm parasites. They live both inside and outside the body. They include roundworms, tapeworms, flatworms, pinworms, and flukes.

Parasitic infections can be passed from one person to another in multiple ways. It can spread through contaminated water, soil, food, blood, sexual contact, or a carrier.  

Risk factors

Anyone can get infected with parasites, but some are at greater risk of developing parasitic infections like:

  • People with a weak immune system
  • Individuals with an illness or disease 
  • People living in tropical or subtropical areas
  • Lack of clean water
  • Swimming in contaminated water
  • Infected pets can transmit the disease to their owners
  • People who work in fields or labs where they come in contact with contaminated soil, feces, or other infected materials.

Diagnosis of parasitic infections

There are several ways to diagnose parasitic infections like:

Blood test

Fecal test

MRI

Colonoscopy

These parasitic infections are diagnosed based on egg, larvae, and adult parasites. Samples of stool, blood, and tissues are taken. These parasites are mainly identified based on the parasite’s antigens or DNA.

Treatment of parasitic infections

Treatment of parasitic infections depends upon the type of parasites. It will also largely depends on your diagnosis. Your doctor will prescribe you specific medications after examining you physically.

A health care provider will also check the symptoms or perform a few tests to identify the type of infection.

Usually, pregnant women with toxoplasmosis (food-borne illness) are not given the medications unless the infection is severe.

Your doctor may also prescribe you different medications or home remedies to treat the symptoms of infection. Like in the case of diarrhea, you will be recommended to take electrolyte supplements or drink plenty of water. 

How to prevent parasitic infections?

You can avoid parasitic infections by taking several steps:

  • Practice personal hygiene
  • Always wash your hands before eating and after using the toilet
  • Thoroughly cook your food, especially meat
  • Drink clean, filtered, or boiled water
  • Be careful with your pets. Handle their feces safely to avoid the infections
  • Avoid traveling to high-risk areas
  • Use bug or insect repellents to avoid the parasites bites
  • Be careful while swimming in streams, lakes, and ponds
  • If you have recently traveled to an area where infections are common or notice any symptoms, immediately see your doctor. Your doctor will help you diagnose the infection and prescribe you suitable medicine.

Getting early treatment for these infections is quite important as some of them can be fatal – like there is no vaccine for malarial infection. So it is best to treat it at the initial stages to avoid symptoms getting worst. 

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