Nasty Parasitic Infections to Avoid During Your Worldly Travels

Parasites, small organisms that feed off the blood and tissue of larger organisms (known as hosts), are living proof that the world is a creepy place. These little monsters are often invisible to the naked eye, and can cause all sorts of pain, illness and other unpleasantness for travelers unlucky enough to come into contact with them. Here are some of the worst offenders. Altogether now: eeeeeewwwwwwww!

Cysticercosis
Source: Pork Tapeworm

Dirty details: 
While the pork tapeworm thrives on porcine skin cells, it will lay eggs within a pig’s intestinal tract that eventually wind up in the animal’s feces. And since pigs eat each other’s poop, the parasite can easily spread throughout the entire sty — and that’s bad news for any unlucky diner who consumes bacon, ham or other pork products rendered from the infected animals. The parasite has also been found in contaminated drinking water. Once the worm finds a human host, it attaches to the intestinal tract and makes its way into the bloodstream, where it undergoes a significant growth spurt. This can lead to cysts that develop in the hosts’s brain, eyes, and/or muscle tissue. Medical conditions associated with cysticercosis include retinal detachment, seizures, headaches, and diminished motor functions.

Treatment: Doctors will typically prescribe a regimen of anti-parasitic and anti-inflammatory drugs to eradicate the pork tapeworm. Travelers (especially those who visit developing countries) are urged to avoid drinking tapwater and eating raw or undercooked pork products. So if you plan to visit the Third World, a stockpile of bottled water and strict kosher diet is the best way to avoid this little monster.

 

Strongyloidiasis
Source: Threadworm

Dirty details: The threadworm can survive in soil that has been contaminated by feces, but it much prefers the warmth of a human host. When an individual comes into contact with the infected dirt, the threadworm will penetrate his/her skin cells, travel through the pulmonary arteries, and make its way to the respiratory system, where it is eventually swallowed. Once inside the digestive tract, the parasite(s) set up shop and mature into adulthood. The worms will spend up to five years reproducing and attempting to break through the host’s bowel lining; if they are successful, then they may cause damage to vital organs like the liver and lungs. Medical conditions associated with strongyloidiasis include chronic diarrhea, abdominal pain, and symptoms that may be misdiagnosed as meningitis.

Treatment: Physicians will usually prescribe a quick-acting anti-parasitic drug like ivermectin or Albenza to do away with threadworms in a timely fashion.The parasite predominantly dwells in tropical and sub-tropical regions, so doctors urge travelers to exercise caution in these places when coming into contact with dirt or soil (gloves and layers are recommended).

 

Lymphatic Filariasis
Source: Roundworm

Dirty details: Yet another reason to hate mosquitoes, roundworm larvae (sometimes numering in the hundreds) are spread to a human host while the mosquito drinks his/her blood. They are funneled into the cavernous lymphatic system, where they reach maturity and grow up to four inches in length. As the adults reproduce, their larvae travel to the lungs. When the host body’s temperature decreases at night, they travel to the surface of the skin and hitch a ride with passing mosquitoes. Medical conditions associated with lymphatic filariasis include elephantiasis, which can cause skin and tissue to greatly increase in size, as well as asthma-like symptoms caused by the large number of roundworms congregated inside the lungs. As the roundworms expire, the dead matter they leave behind can lead to nightmarish symptoms, such as lumps in the scrotum or breasts and secretion of a gold-colored liquid from the pores.

Treatment: Doctors will prescribe strong anti-parasitic drugs, but the host must also engage in a strict cleanse that involves constant bathing and skin care treatments. The parasite is commonly found in North America (as well as Southeast Asia) — so if there’s a mosquito problem in your neck of the woods, add an extra layer of repellent and consider investing in a mosquito net.

Dermatobia hominis
Source: Human botfly

Dirty details: Imagine you’re at a dinner party, entertaining your fellow guests with stories from your recent trip to Latin America or sub-Saharan Africa. Then, without warning, your skin begins to pulsate. Everyone looks on in horror as a small, worm-like creature pushes its snout through the surface of your skin and crawls across your arm. You, my friend, have been infected by the human botfly. This nasty critter deposits eggs in blood-sucking arthropods, such as mosquitoes and ticks, which then transmit the eggs to human hosts. The eggs will hatch when the host undergoes a temperature change, and the larvae will make their way to the outer skin layers. There are usually warning signs — red, boil-like protrusions that secrete pus and cause a great deal of pain — but botfly larvae may emerge unannounced.

Treatment: Once the botfly larvae are inside the host, there’s only one way to get rid of them — extraction. Physicians may use a scalpel to slit the protrusion and remove the larvae, or coat the bumps with an extraction agent (such as beeswax or petroleum jelly) that encourages them to depart the body ahead of schedule. Fortunately, you can prevent infection by wearing long layers and plenty of repellent when visiting regions where the botfly is indigenous.

 

Schistosomiasis
Source: Schistosoma blood fluke

Dirty details: Next time you’re swimming in a lake, lagoon, or other stagnant body of water in a Third World country, consider that, at any moment, a snail-like creature could enter your body and cause all sorts of internal damage. This disgusting little flatworm, known as schistosoma, often attaches to a human host through hair follicles, though it has been known to enter through… ahem… other orifices (we needn’t elaborate). Once inside, the critter will essentially go to town on the host’s vital organs — sometimes for decades. Health experts estimate that more than 200 million people are living with schisto in their bloodstream. The question is: are you part of the statistic? A medical test may be the only way to know, since patients are often asymptomatic.

Treatment: The main treatment for schistosomiasis is Praziquantel, a drug that is readily accessible at clinics throughout the world. As tempting as that swimming hole might be (especially on a hot day), you may want to avoid taking a dip.

By Brad Nehring

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