Yuck, parasites. They’re more common than you think and are the cause of many well-known infections. You may wonder if you have a parasitic infection. So, what are 15 signs of a parasitic infection never to ignore.
Today, parasitic infections are a significant health issue all over the world. These infections result in the death of many people every year in developing countries. But parasitic diseases are on the increase in western countries, especially in big cities over the past couple of decades. Studies show that emigration to western countries from third world countries plays a considerable role in the spread of parasitic diseases. Common human parasites include hookworms, roundworms or whipworms, pinworms, pork tapeworms, scabies, bedbugs, and head lice.
15 signs and circumstances associated with parasitic infections
There are many signs of parasitic infection you should be on the lookout for, especially since parasitic infections are currently on the rise across the United States. If you have symptoms of parasites or find yourself in a potential situation where you could get them, be sure to ask your doctor to test you for a possible parasite infection.
This testing is especially necessary if you’ve traveled to a developing country or you have constant exposure to someone who has recently come from a third world country or developing nation.
Here are 15 situations or signs of a parasitic infection you shouldn’t ignore.
1 – You have epilepsy
The most common cause of epilepsy around the world is from a pork tapeworm. This intruder can invade your central nervous system. The tapeworm occupies your body’s tissue, eventually building up in your central nervous system, skin, muscles, and eyes. This invasion can lead to neurocysticercosis, a severe illness that causes seizures like epilepsy.
2 – You have pain in the liver or gall bladder areas
A liver fluke is a type of parasitic worm. Liver fluke infections aren’t that common in the United States, but they do happen. You can get a liver fluke from eating contaminated, undercooked freshwater fish. If you accidentally eat a liver fluke, it goes to your intestines, where it locates in your bile duct inside your liver. It can grow more prominent in this environment. Many people have no symptoms, or their symptoms won’t show up for years. On rare occasions, liver flukes can cause bile, duct cancer, or liver stones.
3 You might feel have abdominal pain, indigestion, increased or decreased appetite
Adult tapeworms can infect your small intestine. Many times you’ll have no symptoms or minor signs thought to be related to stomach upsets, the flu, or other common stomach problems like IBS. Eating meat that hasn’t been cooked thoroughly can harbor tapeworm eggs.
4 – You might feel extreme fatigue, fever, and headaches
These symptoms could be a sign that you have malaria. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or anemia. Malaria is caused by the plasmodium parasite that enters your body by a mosquito bite.
The parasite affects your red blood cells causing toxins to build up that, in turn, reduces your red blood cell production or anemia. It can even block your small blood vessels in your body. Left untreated, malaria causes jaundice, coughing, shortness of breath, an enlarged spleen, or hypoglycemia.
5 – You may have excessive bloating, gas, or stomach discomfort
A tiny parasite by the same name causes giardia. It’s a common waterborne parasite in the United States. Found in streams, lakes, and sometimes public swimming pools or spas. It is occasionally transmitted through food or person to person.
Symptoms of giardia include the following:
- Weight loss
- Watery diarrhea
Call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms that last longer than a week.
Studies show it’s also a common parasitic infection for caregivers of children or those who swim in freshwater rivers, streams, or lakes.
6 – You own a cat
Accidentally touching cat feces in the garden or litter box may give you a parasitic infection from the Toxoplasma gondii The Toxoplasma parasite is a single-celled parasite. It causes flu symptoms or no symptoms at all. If you’re pregnant, you can pass this infection on to your baby, which can cause dangerous side effects. If you’re not pregnant when you get this infection, your doctor may give you a drug used for malaria and an antibiotic.
7 – You can’t stop scratching your hair
Lice can live on your head, body, clothes, or pubic hair. They’re a parasite that feeds off human blood. They’re spread easily from person to person. Lice crawl, but do not hop or fly.
Symptoms of lice include:
- Itchiness on your head, body or pubic area
- Feeling like something is crawling in your hair
- Finding nits on your clothes or pubic area
- Finding little lice eggs or nits in your hair
- Lesions on your scalp or neck
8 – You have a dog
If you own a dog, you are susceptible to getting hookworms and roundworms, both common intestinal parasites. These worms are especially common in puppies. These parasites are passed to their stools, so it’s easy to get them on your feet or hands if you’re walking barefoot or working in the yard. Little kids can accidentally ingest a hookworm if they touch their mouths.
Hookworm symptoms include:
- Itchiness where the parasites travel under your skin
- Both hookworms and roundworms also cause:
- Stomach pain
Kids are more susceptible to these worms than adults since they play outside more in the dirt or sand. The best preventative is to deworm your pets and keep them up to date on shots.
9 – Your entire body itches incessantly
Mites cause scabies. The National Institute for Health reports that scabies affects people of all economic levels, but “especially the young, elderly and immunocompromised or developmental delayed are at significantly higher risk for scabies and related complications.”
Scabies is very contagious. You can get them touching an infected person’s skin, using their blankets, sheets, towels, or furniture. You can also get scabies from sexual contact with an infected person.
10 – Kids and parasites called pinworms
Not all kids get pinworms, but they are common in children. These little worms get inside your colon or rectum and lay eggs at night around the anus area. The eggs live on your bed sheets or clothing. The eggs are so small, they are often airborne and are easily breathed in. Kids tend to pass them to other children or those caring for them. Strange cases of pinworms have caused appendicitis, but it’s infrequent. Pinworm typically only causes mild symptoms. But studies found that one-third of people with pinworms had no signs.
Common symptoms include anal or vaginal itching and insomnia. Other symptoms may include:
- Bacterial infection around the scratched areas
- Watery diarrhea
- Abdominal pain
11- Latin American travels
Studies show that Chagas disease caused small protozoan called Trypanosoma cruzi is exceptionally deadly for those living in Latin America, but it’s spreading even in the United States. Many people have no symptoms, but Chagas disease can lead to heart problems or life-threatening neurological and digestive problems. If caught soon enough, it can be treated, but if left too long, there is no treatment. Chagas disease is spread by a bug called triatomine bug that bites you then poops in the hole of your skin.
12 – You eat raw fish
If you eat ceviche or sushi with uncooked fish, you are susceptible to getting Anisakiasis or herring worm disease. This small worm can cause stomach pain, vomiting, fever, and diarrhea. If you get a tingling in your throat while eating raw fish, stop and cough up the worm before you swallow it.
13 – Undercooking meats
Trichinosis is a parasite you can get from eating undercooked pork, bear, or wild boar. It’s a roundworm that infects these animals then gets passed to humans if they eat the meat. The parasitic worms travel through your bloodstream and other body tissues. Symptoms are
- Muscle pain
- Swelling in your face
- Sensitivity to light
- Eye infections
- It can also give you stomach symptoms like diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting.
Trichinosis can be fatal if it’s not diagnosed quickly. If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor immediately.
14 – Overseas travels
Depending upon where you travel, you may be at risk of getting a parasite when you go. Find out what pests are common to the area where you plan to visit. If there is a preventative measure, find out before your travels. If there isn’t a vaccine, take some precautions on your trip such as
- Drink bottled or boiled water only
- Wash your hands constantly
- Avoid eating raw meat, eggs or shellfish
15- You do not wash your hands frequently
If you don’t wash your hands properly, you’re at risk. Handwashing is the best prevention against parasites. Wash your hands properly with hot soapy water after you go to the bathroom, work outside in the garden, caring for your pets, change diapers, or before preparing food. Sanitizing your hands is the number one way to safeguard your health plus prevent spreading parasites to others.
How to prevent getting a parasitic infection
Here are some basic ways to avoid a parasitic infection.
1 – Cook your food properly
It’s recommended that you cook ground pork at 160 degrees Fahrenheit or whole pork shoulders at 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Chicken should be cooked at 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and beef should be cooked at 145 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit depending upon the cut of meat. Never sample meat until it’s cooked.
Always wash your hands with hot soapy water after touching raw meat.
2 – Care for your pets, dogs, and cats
- Hand washing after working in your garden or yard
- Don’t touch cat or dog feces (or rabbit, horse, chickens, or any other critters you raise)
- Get your animals vaccinated
- Get your pets dewormed
- Remove all dog or cat feces from your yard
3 – Educate your kids about the risks
- Instruct your kids not to eat soil or sand and not to put their hands in their mouths when playing outside.
- Have your children wash their hands with hot soapy water when they come from playing outside.
Final Thoughts on Catching Parasitic Infections
As with most diseases, prevention is always the best option. However, you may contract a parasitic infection despite your best intentions. If you do have any of these symptoms, seek an opinion from your doctor. A simple test can determine the next steps.