Intestinal parasites are parasites that settle in a human’s or animal’s gastro-intestinal tract. They prefer to live in the intestinal wall, although they can live throughout the body. They can be caused by drinking infected water, ingesting undercooked or raw meat, or through the skin. The two main types of intestinal parasites are protozoa and helminths. Children who come into contact with infected soil in areas like school playgrounds and sandboxes are more susceptible than others, as are people who live in developing countries.
An intestinal parasite may cause a wide range of symptoms. Sometimes intestinal parasites do not cause any symptoms, or symptoms may be inconsistent (come and go). The most common are coughing, abnormal pain, diarrhea and flatulence, bloating and cramping. Other common symptoms include abdominal pain, impairment to the central nervous system, chest pains, chronic fatigue, chills, dizziness, headaches, fever, joint pain, weakness, weight loss because of malnutrition, lung congestion, night sweats, memory loss, muscle spasms, and insomnia. Just because you have one or a few of these symptoms does not necessarily mean you have an intestinal parasite. You may want to check with your doctor just to make sure, however.
Swallowing contaminated water is probably the most common way to become infected with an intestinal parasite. Contaminated water can be found anywhere, such as ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, municipal wells, water supplies, swimming pools, water parks, cisterns and spas. Generally people in developing countries are more at risk because their water supply may not be clean. People who live in developed countries are usually safer, although water contamination can still happen. You can also get an intestinal parasite by eating contaminated food. The raw produce may be washed with contaminated water, or food handlers may not wash their hands thoroughly. Either way, a parasite can get into the food product, and then into your system. Person to person contact can also lead to an intestinal parasite. Hands can become contaminated with fecal matter, so parents who need to change a baby’s diaper are more at risk.
An intestinal parasite can be prevented by adding certain foods to your diet. There are many foods available that help eliminate intestinal parasites. Garlic is one of them. It can be eaten in salad, garlic bread, or pasta. Another food that eliminates intestinal parasites is papaya. Both the seeds and the fruit itself are effective. Carrots are also known to cure many types of intestinal parasites. Adding foods to your diet is not enough, however. You also want to eliminate certain foods that can cause intestinal parasites. Raw fish is known to cause parasites, so you may want to avoid sushi (or at least an excessive intake of sushi). Unwashed vegetables can also cause intestinal parasites. Make sure to wash all your fruit and vegetables before eating them, and make sure they are washed with clean water, as contaminated water can also cause intestinal parasites. Keeping up your hygiene also helps protect you against parasites. Washing your hands frequently with soap and making sure all food is cooked are important measures to take.
If you are infected with an intestinal parasite, typically prescription drugs are administered to remove the parasites. Anti-parasitic drugs are effective in curing intestinal parasites.
Leo Galland, M.D., a practicing physician and author, has more information about intestinal parasites through a blog on The Huffington Post.