The ‘inside story’: are your health issues caused by parasites?

Young couple sharing a digital tablet while relaxing in bedDid you know that parasites are a problem for millions of Americans? According to experts at the Centers for Disease Control, the problem is more common than many people realize. Moreover, many people that pick up a parasite often go undiagnosed, and suffer from illness and symptoms that could be treated or managed.

In fact, it’s a common misconception that parasites are only a problem in underdeveloped or poor countries. Many people (mistakenly) believe that you can’t pick up a parasite if you have access to proper sanitation, running water, and food prepared according to a high quality of safety standards. But, there are still ways to pick up a parasite that might surprise you. What can cause a parasitic infection?

These common risk factors might point to a parasitic infection:

  1. Do you own a cat? What about a cat at a friend’s home, or have you come into contact with a stray? Contact with cat waste, either accidentally or by cleaning a litter box, can expose you to a parasitic infection by Toxoplasmosis. It is estimated that more than 60 million people are chronically infected with toxoplasma gondii. Often, many people don’t hear about the possibility of contracting the parasite until they (or a friend) get pregnant, when an obstetrician orders tests or counsels them to avoid exposure to cat waste.
  2. Do you own a dog? You’re not better off than cat owners. The worms that live in the intestines of dogs (and some cats) carry a parasite called Toxocara. In fact, many Americans have been exposed and carry antibodies in their blood to fight off the infection. But for those that don’t, contracting Toxocara can lead to serious illness and even blindness.
  3. Did you know that some parasites can be contracted through sexual contact? A protozoa called trichomonias is transmitted sexually. It’s a common infection that often is symptomless, but can cause itching and burning, and puts the person at risk of developing additional infections because the body is weakened by trying to keep the parasite at bay.
  4. Eating undercooked meat — or even fruits and vegetables that haven’t been handled properly — can lead to exposure to tapeworms that live in the muscles and brain. Most people know that, but aren’t aware of how common exposure can be.
  5. Have you been hiking or camping lately? What about drinking untreated, unfiltered well or spring water? Contaminated water, taken in while camping or from other untreated sources, can lead to parasitic infections and illness.
  6. Been bitten by a bug lately? It’s well known that mosquitos and ticks can carry illness. But a bug called the triatomine bug can cause an illness called Chagas disease. According to some experts,”[m]ore than 300,000 American are infected with Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease, and more than 300 infected babies are born every year.”

So, how do you know if you have a parasitic infection? The symptoms can seem general, and mimmic symptoms of other illnesses. Think fatigue, fever, nausea, heart and respiratory symptoms, headaches, rashes, and itching. Fairly vague, right? That’s why we recommend that if you have unexplained symptoms that aren’t going away, you ask your holistic wellness provider and doctor to run tests for parasitic infection.

How do we test for parasites? The CDC recommends a few different tests. (You can call us to learn more, or visit the CDC page here.) The list of tests includes blood draws, fecal sample testing, and x-rays.

More than one kind of test may be performed by your health care provider. Among other things, the tests will look for antibodies in your blood serum, evidence in fecal samples of the byproducts of parasites, and x-rays will be used to determine if your organs have developed lesions caused by some parasitic infections.

In some cases, a colonoscopy may be done to more thoroughly screen for a parasite. You health care provider will determine which tests to order, and will often send the samples to a qualified lab for analysis.

It’s important to learn more about the issue, because so many Americans go without proper diagnosis and treatment due to a lack of knowledge and the common misconception that parasites are not an issue here in the United States.

If you think you may have unexplained symptoms and would benefit from a screening, either because you have one of the risk factors identified above, or just a long-term issue that has gone unresolved, please be sure to learn more and ask for a test.

You can take control of your health by learning more, and finding natural ways to promote your health, healing and overall wellness. Don’t hesitate to visit our website to learn more, and reach out with any questions.

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