Intestinal parasites are organisms that live in the gastrointestinal tract of humans and animals. They can vary in size, shape, and characteristics, and they may feed on the host’s nutrients, tissues, or blood.
These parasites can be single-celled organisms like protozoa or multicellular worms like helminths. Intestinal parasitic infections are prevalent in various parts of the world, particularly in areas with poor sanitation and limited access to clean water.
To know more about these worms in our system, read this post till the end.
What Are The Different Types Of Intestinal Parasites?
Human intestinal parasites come in various types, each with its unique characteristics and effects on the human body. Here’s an overview of the different types of intestinal parasites:
Protozoa are single-celled organisms that can cause intestinal infections. They are divided into different groups based on their mobility and characteristics, including the likes of:
I. Giardia Lamblia
This parasite causes giardiasis, a common intestinal infection. It’s transmitted through contaminated water and food. Giardia attaches to the intestines, causing symptoms such as watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, bloating, and nausea.
II. Entamoeba Histolytica
Responsible for amoebiasis, this parasite can cause severe intestinal infections. It’s transmitted through contaminated water and food. Amoebiasis can lead to symptoms like diarrhea (with blood and mucus), abdominal pain, and fever. In some cases, the infection can spread to other organs, causing more severe health issues.
This parasite causes cryptosporidiosis and is known for its resistance to chlorine. It’s transmitted through contaminated water and recreational water sources. Infections can lead to watery diarrhea, stomach ulcers and cramps, dehydration, and weight loss. Individuals with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to severe complications.
IV. Toxoplasma Gondii
This parasite primarily affects cats, but humans can become infected through contact with contaminated soil, water, or undercooked meat. In healthy individuals, it may cause mild flu-like symptoms or go unnoticed. However, it can pose serious risks to pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.
2. Helminths (Worms)
Helminthic infections are caused by various types of worms that can live in the intestines. They are broadly classified into three groups:
I. Roundworms (Nematodes)
These include parasites like Ascaris lumbricoides (intestinal roundworms) and hookworms. Ascaris infections often cause abdominal discomfort and coughing. In addition, it can also lead to malnutrition due to nutrient absorption issues. Hookworms attach to the intestinal walls and can cause anemia and other symptoms.
II. Flatworms (Cestodes And Trematodes)
Cestodes include tapeworms such as Taenia Saginata (beef tapeworm) and Taenia Solium (pork tapeworm). These parasites can cause digestive issues, and in some cases, the larval form of T. Solium can lead to cysticercosis, affecting tissues and organs. Trematodes include parasites like Schistosoma species, which cause schistosomiasis, a chronic disease that affects organs and can lead to severe complications.
Flukes are another type of flatworm that can cause various infections depending on the species. They often affect the liver, lungs, and intestines.
How Do Intestinal Parasites Get Inside Our Bellies?
Many types of common Intestinal parasites can enter our bodies through various pathways, primarily related to the ingestion of contaminated food, water, soil, or contact with infected individuals or animals.
Here’s a detailed explanation of signs of intestinal parasites and how they get inside our bodies:
1. Contaminated Food And Water
One of the most common ways intestinal parasites enter our bodies is through consuming contaminated food and water. Parasite eggs or cysts can be present in soil, sewage, or unsanitary water sources. When fruits, vegetables, or other foods are grown or washed with contaminated water, the parasites can attach to the surface. If these foods are not properly washed or cooked, the parasites can survive and be ingested.
2. Poor Hygiene Practices
Fecal-oral transmission is a significant route for intestinal parasite infections. If individuals do not practice proper hygiene, like washing their hands after using the restroom or before handling food, they can unknowingly transfer parasite eggs from their hands to their mouths or onto surfaces that others may touch.
3. Ingestion Of Infective Stages
Parasites have different life stages, and some of these stages are infective and can survive in the environment. For instance, some parasitic worms have eggs that are released into the environment through human or animal feces. These eggs can then hatch into infective larvae that humans can ingest through contaminated food, water, or unwashed hands.
4. Consuming Undercooked Meat
Certain parasites, like tapeworms, can be present in undercooked or raw meat from infected animals. If these meats are consumed without proper cooking, the parasites can enter the digestive system and potentially establish an infection.
5. Soil-Transmitted Infections
Soil contaminated with parasite eggs can be inadvertently ingested. This can occur when people touch contaminated soil and then touch their mouths or eat without washing their hands properly.
6. Vector-Borne Transmission
In some cases, parasites can be transmitted through vectors like insects. For instance, mosquitoes can carry parasites like the filarial worm that causes lymphatic filariasis. When infected mosquitoes bite humans, they can transmit the parasites, which can then enter the body through the skin and travel to the lymphatic system.
7. Direct Contact With Infected Individuals Or Animals
Some parasites can be transmitted through direct contact with infected individuals or animals. This can include handling pets or livestock that carry parasites, especially if hygiene practices are not followed.
What Are The Symptoms Of Having Intestinal Parasites?
Here’s a detailed explanation of the common symptoms associated with intestinal parasite infections:
1. Gastrointestinal Symptoms
Intestinal parasites can lead you to suffer from various gastric symptoms, which are pretty common. The most common symptoms of intestinal parasites are:
- Diarrhea: Parasitic infections can lead to frequent loose or watery stools. In some cases, the diarrhea may be bloody or contain mucus. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is one of the most common intestinal parasite symptoms.
- Abdominal Pain: Cramps, discomfort, bloating, and other forms of abdominal pain are common. Symptoms. The pain may be intermittent or persistent.
- Nausea and Vomiting: Feeling queasy, nauseated, and vomiting can occur, especially if the infection is causing irritation in the digestive tract.
- Loss of Appetite: Many infections can lead to a reduced desire to eat due to discomfort in the digestive system.
- Weight Loss: Chronic or severe infections can result in weight loss due to a combination of reduced appetite and nutrient malabsorption.
2. Digestive Disturbances
Intestinal parasites can cause several different types of digestive disturbances, such as:
- Malabsorption: Parasites can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, leading to deficiencies and weakness.
- Steatorrhea: Fatty, foul-smelling stools can occur due to impaired fat absorption.
- Amebic Liver Abscess: In cases of Entamoeba Histolytica infection, the parasite can migrate to the liver, causing pain and discomfort in the upper abdomen.
Some parasites, like hookworms, feed on blood, leading to iron deficiency anemia. Symptoms include fatigue, weakness, and pale skin.
4. Skin Issues
When it comes to facing skin issues due to intestinal parasites, two types of symptoms are seen, which are:
- Cutaneous Larva Migrans: This occurs when hookworm larvae migrate under the skin, causing itchy, red, winding tracks or rashes.
- Urticaria (Hives): Allergic reactions to certain parasites can lead to hives, skin redness, and itchiness.
5. Fever and Fatigue
Infections with parasites like Giardia and Entamoeba Histolytica can cause fever, often accompanied by other symptoms. In addition, many parasitic infections can lead to general fatigue and weakness due to the body’s immune response and nutrient deficiencies.
6. Respiratory Symptoms
In severe cases of ascariasis (caused by Ascaris lumbricoides), the worms can migrate to the lungs, causing coughing and respiratory discomfort.
7. Neurological Symptoms
In rare instances, certain parasites can affect the nervous system, leading to symptoms like seizures or cognitive impairment.
8. Immune Response
Due to allergic reactions, the body’s immune response to parasites can cause allergy-like symptoms, such as itching, swelling, and respiratory issues.
It’s important to note that the risk of getting infected by intestinal parasites is higher in regions with poor sanitation, limited access to clean water, and inadequate hygiene practices. Proper sanitation, safe food handling, learning how to clean stomach, and maintaining good personal hygiene are essential for preventing the ingestion of parasite eggs, cysts, or larvae and reducing the risk of infection.
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