When traveling abroad, we know to avoid drinking untreated water, swimming in freshwater streams and lakes, and eating certain foods. The risks for contracting a parasitic disease while away are pretty well defined, and as a traveler you are made aware of these risks before you leave the United States.
Less clear are the risks here at home. It is a fact, however, that parasitic diseases in America are on the rise. According to Dr. Oz, “approximately 1 in 3 Americans are infected with an intestinal parasite at any given time.”
Exact statistics are not available since most Americans who are infected may not even know it. Symptoms of parasites are often troublesome and vague. Therefore, treatment is not immediately sought. Once it is, an accurate diagnosis can be elusive. This delay in treatment is worrisome because the longer a parasite stays in the host, the more pathological changes occur to the body and the more resistant the parasite becomes to treatment.
Parasites are organisms that take up residence in another host organism and feed on the host’s nutrients. This can cause both minor ailments as well as serious, sometimes life-threatening illnesses. There are many types of parasites, though for the purposes of this blog we are mostly referring to the multi-cellular organisms called helminths and single-celled protozoa. Most of these infestations occur after eating or drinking contaminated food or water. Each type of organism has a unique method of causing illness in the host.
Here are seven serious signs that you might have a parasite living in your body. This can rob you of nutrients and make you sick.
1. You are Constantly Sick
One thing parasites are especially good at is evading your immune system. Parasites can go dormant or into hiding when your immune system becomes alerted to its presence. After the initial effort by your immune system to attack the parasite is over, it comes out of hiding and begins to replicate. Each time the immune system responds to new or recurring parasite symptoms, it becomes weakened again. A diminished immune system can cause you to become sick more often when exposed to the common cold, allergens or stomach viruses. Parasites can also cause malnutrition, a common cause of impaired immune system response.
2. You Have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Typically, this parasite symptom is indicative of a protozoan parasite like Giardia or Cryptosporidium. However, it may occur later in the disease process in helminth or worm infections. Fatigue can become a chronic problem, which leads to an eventual diagnosis of chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS), without ever discovering the underlying cause. In around 70 percent of Giardia-related fatigue cases studied, the symptoms resolved once the host received treatment for the parasite.
3. You Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome
In 1990, Dr. Leo Galland presented a paper to the American College of Gastroenterology (ACoG) which demonstrated that more than half of the participants in his study had been misdiagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. The study consisted of 200 patients complaining of chronic diarrhea, recurrent constipation, abdominal pain and bloating. Fully half of the study patients were eventually diagnosed as having Giardia parasite infections. Not much has changed since his initial findings, according to Dr. Galland in his book, Four Pillars of Healing. Doctors are still failing to identify or even look for parasites, instead favoring the diagnosis of loosely defined syndromes.
4. You Have Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies
Parasites affect the intake of food and the subsequent digestion, absorption and metabolism or your vital nutrients. An intestinal parasitic infestation can even lead to malnutrition in both children and adults. The parasites most often associated with vitamin and mineral deficiencies are the worm-like organisms, helminths, and single cell protozoa like Giardia and Entamoeba histolytica. Low iron and vitamin B12 levels are typical in individuals with intestinal parasite infestations. These nutritional deficiencies have symptoms such as abnormal growth, impaired intellect and increased susceptibility to infection.
5. You Experience Hives, Itching or Rashes That Come and Go
When an intestinal parasite makes its way into the host, an immune response can cause inflammation of the skin. Patients frequently complain of dermatitis, a malady that includes itching and hives on the skin. Hives are red welts that can itch and become painful. Because of the ability of parasites to become dormant for a period before becoming active again, the associated rash tends to wax and wane.
Mites are another type of parasite that can cause skin reactions. These bug-like organisms live outside the body before invading a host by burrowing into the skin to lay eggs. The scabies mite is a highly communicable parasite that can spread from something as simple as a handshake. If left untreated, the scabies mite can live on and under the skin while reproducing indefinitely. They subsist by feeding on the fluids from the host’s tissues.
The hallmarks of a scabies infestation are extreme itching at the entrance site and a linear rash. The rashes come from the burrows or tunnels in which the female mite lays her eggs. There are no known systemic symptoms of a scabies infestation, though infection of the skin due to repeated scratching is common. This condition can lead to more serious problems such as blood infections, impetigo and permanent scarring. Other parasitic mites that can cause rashes and dermatitis from into your skin are straw mites, chigger mites and dog mites.
6. You Have a Persistent Cough and Shortness of Breath
Certain types of worm parasites or helminths can begin as an intestinal parasite. Once mature, they may burrow out of the intestines and find their way to the lungs. The most common of these is called the lung fluke, or paragonimiasis. When we eat undercooked or raw crab or crayfish, including pickled varieties, we are at risk of becoming infected with these types of parasites. According to the Southern Nevada Health District, up to 17 percent of harvested crabs contain cysts infected with the larvae of this parasite.
A persistent cough, fever and hives are an indication that the parasite has reached the lungs. Once in the lungs, the condition may progress at different rates depending on the overall health of the host. Pleural effusions, or fluid on the lung, is a chronic symptom that can recur many times. Often, this is initially diagnosed as idiopathic or as having no definite cause. In individuals with compromised immune systems, or those with a pre-existing lung disease such as COPD or emphysema, the untreated infestation can cause dire or even fatal consequences.
7. You Have Unintended Weight Loss
Two of the earliest signs of a parasitic infestation are diarrhea and loss of appetite. These usually resolve before weight loss becomes significant. However, in the case of a chronic and undetected parasitic infestation, weight loss can become a problem. In children, this manifests as a failure to grow. Symptoms of weight loss or poor growth, despite adequate caloric intake, should be a red flag for doctors and indicate a possible parasite.
Another parasite symptom commonly observed is a rounded or bloated abdomen. This symptom, along with weight loss, is concerning as it may indicate cachexia. On occasion, the immune system produces a chemical called TNF, or tumor necrosis factor. Certain diseases, including parasites, cause this chemical release in response to inflammation. That process triggers the onset of cachexia, also known as wasting disease. When this condition is present, not only does the host lose weight, but it also a sustains a permanent loss of lean muscle mass. Profound anemia, bone loss, brain mass loss and organ failure are other serious symptoms. Once an individual has cachexia, the risk of developing other diseases and even death increases.
Unfortunately, the phrase “unintended weight loss” has tempted those desperate to lose weight to attempt self-infestation by swallowing tapeworms, tapeworm larvae and tapeworm eggs. As cringeworthy as that sounds, it is nothing when compared to the permanent damage the tapeworm or similar parasites can cause to the body. Dr. Patricia Quinlisk advises that, “Ingesting tapeworms is extremely risky and can cause a wide range of undesirable side effects, including rare deaths.” She also notes that one tapeworm can grow to 30 feet in length. Also, because it has both male and female organs, it can produce hundreds of fertilized tapeworm eggs. These eggs can pass along to others through the water supply.
What to Do If You Have Parasite Symptoms?
The good news is that there are successful prescription treatments available, once a doctor correctly diagnoses a parasitic infection. There are also many holistic, natural and alternative remedies to consider. A few options include garlic, coconut oil, unripe papaya, apple cider vinegar and pumpkin seeds.
Dr. Leo Galland, advises patients to remain persistent while communicating with their physicians. Proactive measures, such as requesting a stool sample screening for evidence of parasites and ovum, are warranted. Keep track of your symptoms and seek additional help if you are not receiving the assistance you need.
Once considered a third-world problem, parasites are becoming common in America. The EPA estimates that and one in five Americans’ drinking water violates current safety standards. Each year, almost 1 million people in North America will become sick from waterborne diseases, including parasites. Additionally, parasites can be transmitted through improperly cooked or raw food and from human-to-human contact.
Initial symptoms of parasitic infections can be watery diarrhea, abdominal cramping, rash, hives and fever. Unfortunately, our immune systems are not effective in ridding our body of most parasites. Symptoms may come and go for months and years, making proper diagnosis difficult. Parasite can disarm your immune system, then reproduce rapidly —by the thousands. As the infestation grows, so does the risks for more severe symptoms such as those discussed here.