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Parasitic infections are infections involving organisms that live inside a host organism. They depend on the host for food and protection. Most parasites are dangerous because they use the host organism's resources for food and energy. They make toxins in some cases, which are dangerous to the host. Parasitic infections are rare in developed countries but run rampant in developing countries because of a lack of proper sanitation. Increased travel and an increase in immunosuppressed people (AIDS patients) have caused an increase in parasitic infections in the US.

Because parasites are often hidden infections, they can hide in the body for years and are more common than one would think. It is estimated that half of all individuals in the US have one or more form of parasite in their system. It causes symptoms similar to other chronic infections and can look like GI diseases, chronic fatigue syndrome and cold or flu symptoms.

There are both large and small types of parasites. If you have a large parasite, you usually have a worm that can be seen with the naked eye. Worms can include roundworms, tapeworms and flukes. They enter the body as eggs that hatch and grow into the worm or fluke. These organisms make their own eggs that are passed through the GI tract, infecting others along the way. Some worms stay in the digestive tract, while others pass through the gastrointestinal tract and get into the bloodstream. From there, they can go into muscle or other body tissues.

Small parasites can only be seen under the microscope. They include protozoa organisms and amoebae. They usually stay in the intestines and cause intestinal symptoms but can pass through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream and also into muscle and brain, liver and lung tissue. They do damage to these tissues as they multiply.

There are many ways to get a parasitic infection. You can become infected with a parasite by walking barefoot, through an insect bite, by eating undercooked meat or fish, by eating contaminated raw vegetables or fruits, by eating food prepared by an infected person or by drinking water contaminated with parasites. Direct contact with an infected person can yield a new infection in another person. Inhaling dust that has eggs or cysts on it can provide for a parasitic infection. Picking up pet litter can cause a parasitic infection.

Risk factors for getting parasites include travel to countries where parasites are prevalent, being immunosuppressed, using antibiotics excessively, using drugs or alcohol, having a smoking history and eating diets high in fats and low in fiber. Having food allergies can contribute to getting a parasitic infection as well as being obese or having malabsorption syndromes.

Common parasites include the following: insects, such as mites, fleas, lice and bedbugs; intestinal parasites such as pinworm, tapeworm, Giardia, Cryptosporidium and other protozoa; CNS parasites such as Toxoplasmosis.

Symptoms of parasitic infections vary with the type of infection. Common symptoms include severe diarrhoea of foul-smelling stool, constipation alternating with diarrhoea, stomach rumbling unassociated with hunger, chest pain or heartburn, flu-like symptoms, food allergies that didn't exist before the infection. There can be itching around the anus at night or round the nose and ears. You can lose weight and feel constantly hungry or you can be anaemic. There can be blood in the stool, a loss of appetite, fatigue, depression, memory loss, skin rashes and shortness of breath, among other symptoms.

The diagnosis of parasitic infections can be difficult. Stool can be assessed for ova and parasites. It can take up to six stool samples to get a positive result. Cellophane tape can be used around the anus and can show eggs on the tape under the microscope. An endoscopy of the stomach and duodenum can show the presence of worms or other parasites. Urine and vaginal swabs can be taken and checked for Trichomonas. Blood tests can show an elevation of eosinophils in the bloodstream, a sign of a parasitic infection. There are blood tests that can show antibodies to parasites. X-rays, CT scans and MRI scans can show collections of worms or other parasites in the various tissues.

Treatment of parasitic infections involves taking anti-helminthic medications and medications directly acting on the parasite. There are herbal medications that act against parasites and there are dietary changes you can make that can decrease the chances of parasite survival.

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Medical Negligence Solicitors

Our personal injury solicitors operate a specialist medical negligence compensation service. Our Parasitic Infection solicitors deal with claims using a no win no fee arrangement which means that if you don�t win then you don�t pay them their professional costs. If you would like legal advice at no cost with no further obligation just complete the contact form or email our lawyers offices or use the helpline and a Parasitic Infection solicitor will review your medical negligence compensation claim and phone you immediately.

HELPLINE: ☎ 1800 633 634

The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here