We all know that bacteria are a big problem in our everyday life and we use disinfectants and stockpile antibiotics to fight it. We are used to viruses as well, that’s why we inoculate ourselves against Influenza each year and there are massive government contingencies planned for severe viral outbreaks. But what about parasites? When people think of parasites their general idea is that of a tick or a tapeworm, a large, clearly visible creature that attaches itself to a host on the inside or outside.
The truth is far worse.
While some parasitic organisms are indeed macroscopic and some, like worms, are the stuff of nightmares a good deal of parasites are microscopic creatures, protozoa and similar microorganisms that are much more dangerous than a tapeworm. One of the deadliest diseases in the world, malaria is caused by parasites. Malaria is one of the most dangerous diseases that are still uncontrolled at a global level and it isn’t even the one you are likeliest to get.
Parasites are all around us, even around our home. Toxoplasmosis, for instance is one of the most common parasites in our homes. It is insidious and present in a whole range of animals including our beloved pets. Toxoplasmosis is the reason why so many expectant mothers are advised to not handle any cat litter. The mother can get the parasite and while it is not fatal to her, the fetus can be severely affected by it. Other parasites are less common but just as dangerous. A good deal of them are transmitted through contaminated water, and thousands of people travelling abroad return wit ha parasitic infection each year.
Even if you’ve been on only a week-end trip it is strongly recommended that you do a blood panel and some basic tests every time you return. A list of affordable tests can be found here: http://www.healthtestingcenters.com/a-z-blood-test-list.aspx and as long as you remember to select the tests you need and not just go for the most expensive option.
Infections with parasites like giardia or tapeworms can go unnoticed for a long time and have severe impact on your digestive system and the general status of your health. Fortunately such infections can be easily identifiable by a skilled GP through the vitamin deficiency symptoms that they bring with them. A blood panel can identify the impact of internal parasites so that your doctor can start you on a treatment course.
Exotic parasites are harder to treat but they too can be best fought by taking simple precautions like not drinking tap water and not bathing in unsafe sources, even if the locals tell you that a particular spot is safe. A lot of natives in Africa have become resistant to the parasite that causes elephantiasis (filariasis) a terrible disease that affects the lymphic system and causes a person’s legs (and scrotum in males) to swell uncontrollably. Similarly, he vast majority of peop[le living along the Ganges are similarly immune to the local species of amoebas, an immunity that the hundreds of westerners bathing in the river each year do not posess.
Parasitic diseases are terrible if left unchecked but unlike viral or bacterial infections which spread more easily they are also harder to contract and easily discovered through the right tests. So if you are feeling poorly after a trip abroad, contact your physician as soon as possible.