What is a Parasitic Infection and How Does it Impact Health?
A parasitic infection is a condition caused by parasites. Parasites can cause a variety of infections, ranging from mild to deadly and some cause adaptive immune responses. These infections can be transmitted in a number of ways. Symptoms of a parasitic infection vary depending on the parasite involved. They can range from mild to severe and may include fever, diarrhea, nausea, and weight loss. Treatment for a major parasitic disease typically involves taking antimicrobial medications. In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary.
The Most Common Infections
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are three parasite infections that are most common in the United States: giardiasis, cryptosporidiosis, and cyclosporiasis.
Giardiasis, often called “beaver fever,” is caused by the parasite Giardia lamblia and is typically spread through contaminated water, food, or contact with an infected person. Symptoms include diarrhea, cramping, nausea, and vomiting.
Cryptosporidiosis, also known as “crypto,” is caused by the parasite Cryptosporidium parvum and can also be spread through contaminated water or contact with an infected individual. It is particularly dangerous for young children and people with weakened immune systems. Symptoms of cryptosporidiosis include watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting.
Cyclosporiasis is caused by the parasite Cyclospora cayetanensis and is typically spread through contaminated food or water. Symptoms of this infection include diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps. If you think you may have a parasite, it is important to see a doctor so that you can receive treatment.
The three main types of parasites that cause disease in humans are protozoa, helminths, and arthropods.
Protozoa are single-celled organisms that can multiply in the human body. Many protozoa are acquired by ingestion of contaminated food or water or by contact with contaminated soil. Malaria, giardiasis, and trichomoniasis are examples of diseases caused by protozoa.
Helminths are worm-like parasites that can grow to be very large. They generally live in the intestine but some helminths can travel through the blood to other organs where they can cause disease. Helminths are usually acquired by ingestion of contaminated food or water or by contact with contaminated soil. Intestinal worms such as hookworms, roundworms, and tapeworms are examples of helminths that can cause disease in humans.
Arthropods are parasitic insects that can transmit diseases to humans through their bites. These include mosquitoes, fleas, lice, and ticks.