What You Should Know About Parasitic Infections (Especially if You’ve Traveled to Tropical Climates)

Health, Infections, Misdiagnosis

Millions of people around the world get parasitic infections every year. The most common parasitic infections include malaria and toxoplasmosis. Many parasitic infections are more common in rural areas of the world without developed sanitation systems.

A parasite is a tiny plant or animal that gets nutrients by living off another creature. Parasites can live in your digestive system and cause illness. These are known as intestinal parasites.

Some parasites grow, reproduce, or invade healthy functioning systems, making their hosts sick, resulting in parasitic infection. Some parasites may consume your food and leave you hungry after meals, resulting in an inability to gain weight. Parasites are not a disease, but they can spread diseases.

The Tests to Diagnose a Parasitic Infection

An ova and parasites test (O&P) looks for parasites and their eggs (ova) in a sample of your stool. Parasites release toxins into your bloodstream and this may cause symptoms similar to various gastrointestinal conditions.

If a person is having diarrhea, gas, or other stomach symptoms, 3 or more stool samples may be collected on different days and examined for a parasite or parasite eggs. A negative result means no parasites were found. A positive result means you’ve been infected by a parasite. The results will show the type and number of parasites.

The Treatment for a Parasitic Infection

Providers can cure most parasitic infections with medication. Most parasitic infections can be prevented and many are treatable.

The treatment for parasite infections depends on the particular type of parasite. Doctors may prescribe medication that kills the parasite and medication that treats any symptoms. The goal of treatment is to eradicate the parasite completely.

Strongyloides is a parasitic disease caused by roundworms and is most common in tropical or sub-tropical regions. Traveling in tropical or sub-tropical regions of the world can present risk factors for parasitic infection. The most dreaded consequence of Strongyloides is hyperinfection syndrome, which is associated with severe disseminated disease and frequently leads to multi-organ failure with eventual death.

Definitive diagnosis of Strongyloides requires the detection of larvae in the stool specimen. Ivermectin is available as an oral tablet or lotion and treats parasitic infections in the intestinal tractor, eyes, or skin.