Parasites and travel

SHOULD YOU WORRY ABOUT PARASITES WHEN TRAVELING ?

Many micro-organisms are living in our body. Most of them are useful and even indispensable for our life, like the bacteria found in our digestive track, which enable us to digest our food. But some other tiny organisms which call the human body “home” can be very dangerous and cause serious diseases, which may even be fatal. These are parasites. It is commonly thought that parasitic diseases occur only in developing countries. However, some parasites are present in developed countries, where the sanitation infrastructure, the personal hygiene practices and the food safety are of high level. Wherever you travel, you should remain careful of parasitic diseases.

WHAT ARE THE PARASITES AFFECTING HUMANS ?

In humans, three types of parasites can be distinguished :

  • Protozoa : these are unicellular organisms infesting human blood or tissues. They usually enter the body of their victim through the bite of a contaminated mosquito or fly.
  • Helminths : these are parasitic worms infesting the gastrointestinal tract, the blood, the lymphatic system and diverse tissues. Flatworms, spiny-headed worms, fluke worms, tapeworms, pinworms and roundworms can be quoted.
  • Ectoparasites : these are found attached on the surface of the human body. Ticks, fleas, lice and dust mites are a few of them.

EXAMPLES OF PARASITIC DISEASES

There are numerous parasitic diseases affecting humans, which can have serious effects on health. Malaria is the most common on the planet (every year, about one million people die from malaria) and may infect travelers. Other examples of parasitic diseases include :

  • Ascariasis : this disease is caused by roundworms living on the ground. They enter the human body through food and drinks which are contaminated with their eggs. Once swallowed, the eggs hatch in the intestines of the victim. The symptoms of this disease include abdominal pain and vomiting. If the parasites reach the blood stream and migrate to the lungs, wheezing and coughing appear.
  • Pediculosis : this pathology is caused by lice infesting the hair or the pubic hair. Lice are transmitted through close contact with contaminated people or via their clothes.
  • Giardiasis : this affection is caused by giardia, protozoa transmitted through water, food, hands or items that have been contaminated with animal or human feces. Among the symptoms, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, dehydration and loss of weight can be quoted.
  • Trichomoniasis : this is a sexually transmitted parasitic disease, caused by a protozoan affecting the vaginal tract. This infection is common in the United States.
  • Cryptosporidiosis : this disease is caused by a protozoan. It infects the gastrointestinal tract and causes diarrhea.
  • Toxoplasmosis : this pathology is spread through the consumption of raw or under cooked contaminated meat. It also affects cats, which release eggs of the parasite in their feces. Humans can get infected when in contact with these feces. Toxoplasmosis may cause serious damages to the brain.
  • Scabies : this infection is caused by tiny microscopic mites living in the top layer of the skin of their victims, causing itchiness in the affected area. The transmission of these parasites occurs through close contact with contaminated people or through sexual intercourse.

HOW TO PREVENT PARASITIC DISEASES ?

While traveling, you must take some precautions to avoid being affected by parasitic diseases :

  • Frequently wash your hands with clean water and soap, especially before preparing food and eating, or after going to the bathroom.
  • Wear gloves and closed shoes if you garden, or if you are in contact with soil.
  • Keep your nails short and clean.
  • Don’t scratch your anal area.

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