Have you picked up a parasite? – part one
Written by Emma Lane
Parasites hit the headlines from time to time with reports of fish being infected with these unwanted guests. This is not a new occurrence and I have been fascinated for many years by parasites and have helped countless people appropriately and effectively address their parasitic problems.
Hidden public health problem
For many people, parasites are a scary and off-putting topic. However, these organisms have been around for many millennia and in my opinion, are an increasingly insidious public health threat. Insidious because very few people are aware of them and there are many misconceptions amongst doctors, health practitioners and the general public.
For example, a common belief is that parasites occur only in third-world countries, where poverty and unclean living are more commonplace. The presence of parasites is not confined to these conditions and, despite the popular misconception, those living in the developed world are also at risk.
The belief that parasites only affect those living in poverty or with poor hygiene amenities alone leads many people, including practitioners and doctors, to not even consider parasites as a potential cause of health problems. Therefore the symptoms of infection are missed, or misdiagnosed.
The other significant challenge is that when parasites are suspected the testing procedures are frequently inadequate, which can result in an incorrect diagnosis or the scale of the problem is underdiagnosed. It is important to always use a reputable specialist laboratory, such as PCI Europe.
Our poor health helps parasites to thrive
Often when an infection is in small numbers, it will generally not cause too many problems for the individual. Unfortunately, because our overall level of health and wellbeing has diminished so much, we are more open to picking up these opportunistic organisms.
Parasites will proliferate in an environment that is suitable for their survival and comfort. The modern diet, which is high in processed, poor nutrient-dense food and high sugar, and an overwhelmed immune system all contribute and combine to allow parasites to invade our bodies and thrive.
What are parasites specifically?
Parasites are an organism that lives on, or in, a host organism and they draw their nourishment and protection from the host.
There are approximately three million parasitic organisms on earth, 342 species of Helminths alone have been reported in humans. Humans are hosts to over 70 species of protozoa, and over 25 flukes can infect humans.
Main groups of parasites
Flukes (Trematodes) The adult flukes are leaf-shaped flatworms, they have prominent oral and ventral suckers that help to maintain their position in situ. Flukes are hermaphroditic except for blood flukes, which are bisexual. The life cycle includes a snail intermediate host.
Tapeworms (cestodes) The adult tapeworms are elongated, segmented, hermaphroditic flatworms that inhabit the intestinal lumen. Larval forms, which are cystic or solid, inhabit extra-intestinal tissues.
Roundworms (nematodes) The adult and larval roundworms are bisexual, cylindrical worms. They inhabit intestinal and extraintestinal sites.
Protozoa are tiny one-celled animals found worldwide in most habitats. Infections can range from asymptomatic to life-threatening, depending on the species and strain of the parasite and the resistance of the host.
Ectoparasites are parasites that live off of or in our skin such as mosquitoes, bedbugs, ticks, fleas, mites, lice and botflies.
During their life, parasitic organisms typically go through several developmental stages that involve changes not only in structure but also in biochemical and antigenic composition. Some of these infections can convert from a well-tolerated or asymptomatic condition to life-threatening disease in an infected individual.
Some common signs and symptoms of parasites include:
- Abdominal pain
- Central nervous system impairment
- Chest pain
- Chronic fatigue
- Digestive disturbance
- Joint pain
- Weight loss
- Swelling of facial features
- Skin Disorders
- Rectal prolapse
- Mental health problems
- Lung congestion
- Memory loss
- Night sweats
- Muscle spasms
- Hair loss or thinning
- Children are often irritable and restless when infected
If you feel you have some of the above symptoms, it does not necessarily mean that you are infected. These symptoms can also indicate causative problems other than parasites and, because other conditions can result in these symptoms, utilising accurate and reliable laboratory tests is necessary to determine if parasites are the cause. Parasite Testing Inc. is a world-leading parasite testing facility in America and people here can access their accurate tests via PCI Europe. (parasitetesting.co.uk)
Not just a GI problem
Parasites do not just live in the gastrointestinal system. The symptoms that can arise from an infection are so diverse because for every area of the body there is a parasite that likes to find its home there.
For example, Toxoplasma like the brain; in the intestines, you will find Giardia, Ascaris and tapeworm for example. In the liver Clonorchis and Fasciola can be found, Schistosoma in the bladder and Loa loa like to have a bird’s-eye view from the eye.
In the second part of this article, I will look at how and why we can become infected with these unwanted guests.