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Linda Mundorff

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Parasitic Infections: They Are More Common Than You Think

October 2008
By Dr. Linda Mundorff, MPH,MSN,ND,RN,CNC,CTN

Parasitic infections are on the rise in the United States. These types of infections, which are not as common as bacterial, viral, or fungal, are not always easy to diagnose and are more difficult to treat than the others mentioned. Unfortunately, many parasitic infections are misdiagnosed as bacterial infections and treated with antibiotics. An antibiotic will not kill a parasite. Since parasites are difficult to diagnose it's important that accurate testing be done. For gastrointestinal parasitic infection the best indicator is a stool exam. The test itself is not painful or expensive, but does require a small sample of stool. Many doctors will send a patient home with a kit that includes everything required so that once the sample is obtained the patient can send the kit back for testing. Unfortunately, many doctors will either fail to provide this stool sample kit during the patient's annual exam. There are even more doctors who provide the kit, but fail to follow up with patients who are given the test kit during their annual exam, but fail to comply with the test and send back the kit.

For those patients who are compliant and return the kit, the stool can be tested. After the diagnosis is made and a prescription is given, a repeat stool test should be done to ensure that the parasite has been killed. It is important that the patient understand the importance of the prescription medication. In order for the medication to work it must be taken as directed, for the entire time prescribed, even if the patient claims to feel better.

There are many different parasitic infections, and in the United States we are a bit more fortunate than third world countries that have many different types of parasitic infections to deal with. In the United States there are five parasites that are most concerning.

I have provided you with a table of the top five parasites found in the United States, how the infection is contracted and their symptoms. Please note that many parasites are misdiagnosed because the symptoms mimic so many different types of conditions.

Name How Contracted Symptoms
Blastocytosis Poor hygiene and unsanitary conditions Diarrhea, stomach pain, and gas
Cryptosporidium Contaminated food or water Dehydration, diarrhea, stomach cramps, weight loss, fever, nausea, and vomiting
Giardia Contaminated food or water that has been in contact with animal or human feces Bloating, gas, diarrhea, nausea, severe cramps
Toxoplasma Gondii From infected cat's litter box Causes flu-like symptoms
Trichomonas Vaginalis Genital contact Foul-smelling green-yellow vaginal discharge, vaginal swelling, itching, and redness

As always, the best way to stop an infection is to practice good hygiene and to follow some very basic preventive techniques. Parasites are very difficult to cure so prevention is always going to be your best option. I have provided a brief and very simple list below of preventive techniques. You might think these are so simple and are easy to follow. But surprisingly, there are many people who don't want to take the time, or don't think to take the time, or simply don't believe that they will ever get a parasite infection so why bother to follow these safe and smart practices?

  • Always practice good hand washing before preparing and eating food.
  • Drink treated water only – mountain streams and rivers might look clean but they can be harboring all kinds' microorganisms that will make you very sick.
  • Clean the cat litter box daily and always wash your hands afterwards.
  • Don't fertilize your vegetable garden with untreated manure.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables before eating.
  • Cook your meat thoroughly.
  • If you have an open cut, cover it. Your skin is your first line of defense against microorganisms. An open cut is an invitation in.

So there you have it --A little prevention goes a long way!

Happy Traveling!

Disclaimer:Dr. Mundorff is a Board Certified Naturopath, and not a medical doctor. The information in this column is for educational purposes only and should not be used to self-diagnose and treat diseases. Naturopathy is a complementary practice to health care and should be used in conjunction with a competent health care practitioner. Many herbal and homeopathic remedies can actually be contraindicated in many health conditions, with certain prescriptions, and over-the-counter medications. Please consult your physician before starting any alternative modalities.