There is a large variety of parasites that can attack and live inside the human body. Parasites cannot live on their own, they get their nourishment from us. Let’s take a look at the most common parasites, the causes and treatment involved.
Tapeworm is a common intestinal parasite. It looks like a long white ribbon, can grow to be up to 15 metres long and can live inside a human for up to 30 years.
Animals can get tapeworm while grazing or drinking contaminated water. Humans can contract tapeworm by eating raw or undercooked meat from these infected animals or by drinking water contaminated with tapeworm eggs or larvae.
It is possible that there are minimal symptoms of tapeworm, however the possible symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Hunger or loss of appetite
- Weight Loss
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
In some cases, the only symptom is segments of the worm in the bowel movement. In rare cases, there might be serious complications involved. If you suspect that you have tapeworm please see your doctor to get the relevant treatment. In order to correctly diagnose it, a stool sample will be required.
Treatment depends on the type of tapeworm however it is usually treated with oral medication. These medications usually paralyse the tapeworm, which lets go of the intestine, dissolves and passes through bowel movement.
Here are a few tips to avoid contracting tapeworm:
- Wash your hands well before and after using the toilet.
- Thoroughly cook meat and allow to rest for 3 minutes before cutting as the heat will continue to kill any bacteria during that time.
- Wash your hands with soap and water before cooking or preparing foods.
Another common parasite is lice and is common amongst school children. Head lice are tiny wingless parasitic insects that live in your hair and feed on blood from your scalp. Head lice or nits are mostly found near the neckline at the back of the head and behind the ears.
They are very contagious and can be hard to get rid of and are usually passed on from one person to another in the following ways:
- Direct head-to-head contact.
- Can be transferred through brushes, combs, headphones, headbands and hats.
- They can live for a certain period of time on bedding, upholstered furniture, towels and clothing.
Symptoms of lice infection include:
- Severe itching
- Presence of nits or lice eggs on close examination of the scalp
- Tickling or feeling like something is moving in the hair
- Irritability and difficulty sleeping
- Sores on the head from scratching
- Swollen lymph nodes or glands
Lice can be diagnosed by you or a health provider in the following ways:
- Checking the hair close to the scalp for lice.
- Checking the hair close to the scalp for nits (lice eggs).
- Running a fine-toothed comb through the hair, starting from the scalp – to catch lice and nits.
Lice can be treated with over the counter shampoos or prescription shampoos if those do not work.
Scabies is not an infection but rather an infestation. The tiny mites are called Sarcoptes Scabiei and are found the outer layers of the skin. They cannot jump or fly and crawl very slowly however the mites burrow and lay eggs inside the skin and this infestation leads to a variety of symptoms such as:
- Intense itching especially at night
- A pimple like rash
- Scales and blisters
- Sores caused by scratching
- Track line burrows on the skin – the raised skin lines are usually greyish white or skin coloured.
- The most common places on the body where the mites live include between the fingers, the folds of the wrist, elbow or knee, around the waistline and navel, the neck, face or palms.
The mites are less than half a millimetre long which means they are not visible to the human eye however they will be visible using a microscope or through skin scraping.
Scabies is usually spread in the following ways:
- Prolonged skin-to-skin contact, however not through a quick hug or handshake.
- Shared personal items such as bedding or towels.
- It can be passed on through sexual contact.
People who have a higher risk of contracting scabies include those who are sexually active, prison inmates, people in institutional care or child care facilities and those people who live in very crowded conditions. The reasons for this is as there is a lot of skin to skin contact in day care facilities for children. The children play together and might share the same blankets. Nursing home staff also have a lot of skin-to-skin contact as staff assist the elderly with bathing and dressing.
A doctor will be able to diagnose whether it is scabies by looking at the type of rash and doing a skin scraping where they take a closer look at the mites through a microscope.
Treatment for scabies mostly includes using a special cream which should be applied to the entire body from the neck down and should be left on for 8 to 14 hours and then washed off. It can also be treated with a course of pills as well antihistamines to help control the itching.
If someone in the household has been diagnosed with scabies, then the doctor will most likely treat the entire family. Scabies can live up to 2 to 3 days on the surface of clothing and bedding so it is important to wash any bedding or clothes used by the infected person within the last 3 days.
The affected person can return to school or work within 24 hours after treatment however the itching may persist for a few weeks. If the itching persists after that period of time, please see your doctor as the scabies medication may have to be repeated.
If you or anyone you know has any of the above symptoms please see a doctor as these parasites can be treated. Once you have received the correct treatment you will feel healthy again!