You’ve probably heard horror stories about large tapeworms being discovered in someone’s body, but the scary fact is that parasites are more common than you think. A parasite is an organism that lives in or on a host while feeding from it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are three main types of parasites that can cause disease in humans: protozoa, helminths and ectoparasites.
Protozoa are microscopic, one-celled organisms that can either be free-living or parasitic. They’re able to multiply in humans, causing serious infections to develop from just one single organism. Protozoa can be transferred to humans through a fecal-oral route from contaminated food or water, or from the bite of an insect such as a mosquito.
Helminths are multicellular organisms that are actually quite large. They’re generally visible to the naked eye in their adult stages. They can be either free-living or parasitic, and they do not have the ability to multiply in humans, but they can still cause damage. Helminths include flatworms, tapeworms, thorny-headed worms and roundworms.
This term is more generally used to refer to organisms such as ticks, fleas, lice and mites that attach or burrow into the skin and stay there for weeks to months at a time. These organisms can easily transfer diseases to humans.
Parasitic infections cause disease across the world. Malaria causes the most deaths globally, killing approximately 660,000 people each year. These infections typically affect more people in low-income countries, but they are also present in the United States. Humans can contract parasites in a number of ways, including:
- Contaminated Water – Over 50% of lakes, river streams and creeks are infected with the protozoa parasite. It only takes swallowing a small amount of water to become infected.
- Other Humans – Even if you wash your hands after using the bathroom, you can never be sure that everyone else does. Something as simple as touching a ketchup bottle at a restaurant, then putting your hand near your face, can transmit parasites.
- Animals – Mosquitoes, fleas, ticks and even domesticated pets can cause parasite infections through human contact with their feces.
- Meat – Consuming undercooked meat is a very common source of parasite infections.
- Fruits and Vegetables – Unwashed fruits and vegetables are common parasite carriers.
- Travel – When traveling to a low-income country where parasites are more common, you are at a higher risk of contracting them.
While you might be thinking that won’t happen to me, it’s important to know what to do if you find yourself or a family member with a possible parasite infection.
Symptoms of a parasitic infection include:
- Lowered immune system and constant illness
- Rectal itching
- Vaginal yeast infection
- Sores on the mouth or lips
- Constant fatigue
- Bloating and gas
- Rashes or itching around the genitals
- Constant bladder infections
- Intestinal cramps
- Constipation or diarrhea
If you think you may have a parasitic infection, visit a health care professional. For a natural remedy, you’ll want to try garlic. Garlic has been used for centuries as a natural health remedy. It’s a potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antiviral that can work wonders for your body, especially during an infection. The alicin in garlic is able to target colitis, diarrhea and parasitic infections while boosting the immune system to promote healing. Finely mince 1-2 cloves of garlic, mix them in a cup of water and drink before meals to help kill parasites and get your body back on track!