Statistics show that tick-borne diseases are rising. Lyme disease, Colorado tick fever and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are a few of the illnesses known to be spread by ticks. In addition, summer brings opportunities for the increase of many parasitic diseases spread in other ways. Activities such as going outside and becoming exposed to insects, under-cooking food while grilling and not making sure seasonal vegetables are washed and cooked properly allow them to spread.
What are parasitic diseases?
A parasite is any organism that lives on or inside another organism (the host) and benefits at the host’s expense. They can enter the body through the mouth to reside in the intestines or even burrow through the intestinal wall to infect other organs. Parasites can bore directly through the skin or can enter via the bites of insects. Some can enter the soles of the feet while barefoot or through skin from water that has parasites. Aside from ticks, fleas, lice and mites can be the source of parasitic diseases.
Parasites can cause signs and symptoms ranging from skin irritations to serious life-threatening illnesses, including sepsis, blood disorders, lung and gastrointestinal illness, and central nervous system infections.
Types of parasitic diseases
Types of parasites include protozoa, worms (helminths) and ectoparasites. Protozoans are microscopic one-celled organisms which can cause a serious infection with just one organism. Route of transmission is fecal-oral. That is to say they are transmitted via contaminated food or person-to-person contact. They can pass from person to person via mosquitoes or sand flies.
Helminths are large organisms visible to the naked eye as adults. Among them are flatworms, or tapeworms and flukes that can live in the gastrointestinal tract. Thorny-headed worms are also found in the gastrointestinal tract. Roundworms can live in the gastrointestinal tract, blood, lymphatic or subcutaneous tissues
Ectoparasites are typically blood-sucking parasites that include ticks, fleas, lice and mites.
Management and treatment for a parasitic infection depends on the type of parasite, once identified. Some require no treatment at all, being self-limited in immunocompetent individuals.
Treatment for most helminth infections (pinworms, hookworms, trematodes, etc.) is via anthelmintic medications, such as praziquantel, niclosamide, or albendazole.
The best ways to prevent parasitic diseases
While food safety and good hygiene are usually practiced regularly at home, sometimes people are less diligent on vacation. Avoiding exposure to parasites is the best way to avoid contracting the diseases they carry. Whether food- or insect-borne, taking some common sense measures really helps to avoid them. Hand-washing with soap and hot water before and after using the toilet, after changing diapers and before preparing or eating foods is extremely important. It is also recommended to be wary of establishments in which hand-washing for employees is not strictly enforced.
The summer offers many seasonal vegetables. Precautions, such as cooking fruits and vegetables with boiled or purified water before eating helps to prevent parasitic diseases. Also, it is important to wash, peel or cook all raw fruits and vegetables.
As the weather allows for more grilling, it should be standard practice to thoroughly cook meat. Recommended temperatures are at least 145°F (62.8°C) for whole cuts of beef and pork, and 160°F (71°C) for ground meat and poultry. Raw fish and meat should be avoided.
In preventing contact with insects that carry parasitic diseases, several practices will help. Avoiding soil or water contact which may be contaminated with human or animal feces is a must. Additionally, walking barefoot, playing in sand-boxes, swimming with open sores or swallowing swimming water in natural settings such as streams, ponds, or small lakes can increase the odds of parasitic diseases.
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