We often hear children complaining of stomach pain and dysentery quite often. One cause for this could be intestinal parasites. Parasites are organisms which depend on other organisms for food. Intestinal parasites which are mostly helminths and protozoans feed on either blood or stools present in the intestines.
Majority of them are unaware of these intestinal parasites.
Here is an overview of the commonly observed human intestinal parasites, symptoms and treatment.
Different Categories of Intestinal Parasites
Intestinal parasites can be single celled protozoa or multi-cellular intestinal worms, the helminths. These parasites live in either the small intestine or the large intestine. A person can get infected with more than one type of parasite at a time.
- ProtozoaOne celled human intestinal parasites include Entamoeba hystolytica, Cylospora and Giardia lamblia. They live mainly in the colon and prevent the absorption of nutrients by causing inflammation of the small intestine.
- HelminthsThis category of intestinal parasites includes roundworms, tapeworms and flukes. These multi-cellular parasites measure few millimeters in size. Like protozoa they too survive by absorbing nutrients from colon.
Source of Parasitic Infection
- Infected people generally shed the parasites in stools. In places with poor sanitary conditions, mosquitoes and flies carry these parasitic eggs and contaminate food and water.
- Leakage of sewage pipes into the drinking water lakes or ponds also causes parasitic infections.
Symptoms of Parasitic Infection
In few cases, the parasites remain dormant and do not cause any symptoms. But, in few instances they prove to be life threatening.
Some of the commonly observed symptoms caused by human intestinal parasites include
- Diarrhea: This is the most commonly observed symptom of parasitic infestation. It can last from few days to few weeks. Starts within an hour or two of having the contaminated food.
- Large amounts of mucus and blood in the stools. In case of infection with Entamoeba histolytica pus cells may also be seen in stools. In more severe infections worms may also be found in the stools.
- Flatulence and Bloating.
- Rapid loss of weight due to diarrhea and poor absorption of nutrients.
- Abdominal cramps are observed in cases of infection with Entamoeba histolytica.
- Itching around the anus region.
- Deficiency of vitamins and minerals results in tiredness and tingling sensation.
Diagnosis of Parasitic Infection
Presence of symptoms such as diarrhea and bloating for prolonged periods is an indication for parasitic infection.
Diagnostic tests used to confirm the infection with intestinal parasites include:
- Stool ExaminationStools of the suspected patient is tested for the presence of ova and parasites. The test is performed thrice with three different stool samples collected with a gap of two days.
- Hemoccult testIt is done to know the presence of blood in stools.
- Blood testTo estimate the eosinophil count and presence of Ig E antibodies. The RBC count also shows a drop.
- BiopsyDone to know the presence of cysts in lungs, liver or brain.
Parasites Infection Treatment
Intestinal parasitic infections should be treated immediately to prevent adverse symptoms which may even cause death of the patient. Some of the commonly used drugs include:
- In case of pregnant women paramomycin is used as it does not get absorbed into the blood.
- Trimethoprin-sulfametoxazol is used in case of infection with cyclospora.
Treatment for intestinal parasites should be continued until the worms as well as the ova are completely eliminated to prevent recurring infections.
Parasites Infection Prevention
Maintenance of good personal hygiene and consumption of properly preserved, well cooked food prevents intestinal parasitic infection to a great extent.
- Hand should be washed thoroughly after bowel movement and also before having food.
- Food should be properly cooked to kill the parasites.
- Fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly before using.
- Appropriate care should be taken while travelling and also before visiting countries with high risk of infection.
Lastly, with proper care and treatment it is very easy to combat human intestinal parasitic infections. Stools of infected person remain contagious for long period. Hence, they should be disposed with proper sewage disposal methods.
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