Why are parasites difficult to detect? What are the signs of parasitic infection you can identify yourself? What treatments are recommended and what is the best prevention? Let’s briefly and clearly examine these questions.
Types of Parasites, Worms, and Helminths
Parasites come in a myriad of forms, but they can largely be divided into two major categories. The first category consists of parasites that live in the gastrointestinal tract (GI), encompassing the stomach, small intestine, large intestine, bile ducts, etc. These can be treated both with herbal remedies and synthetic chemicals. The second category includes parasites that don’t live in the GI tract; these can only be eliminated with synthetic chemicals.
There are hundreds, even thousands of types of parasites, but in temperate climates, some of the most common ones that reside in the GI tract include the liver fluke causing opisthorchiasis, roundworms (ascaris), and pinworms which are often found in children.
Also, people are often concerned about tapeworms like beef and pork tapeworms, which are long, ribbon-like worms that can grow to tens of meters in length. Those parasites that do not reside in the GI tract are less common but can be severe. For instance, echinococcosis can form cysts in the kidneys, liver, and other organs. Trichinellosis can affect muscles, and filariasis can impact almost any organ, including the brain and eyes.
Detection of Parasites
Detecting parasites is a complex task. According to the World Health Organization, over 1.5 billion people, or 24% of the world’s population, are infected with soil-transmitted helminth infections worldwide. Yet, many of these cases go undiagnosed due to non-specific symptoms. “Most parasitic infections are asymptomatic, but when symptoms do occur, they can mimic other diseases, making diagnosis difficult,” says Dr. Peter Hotez, an expert on tropical diseases.
How to Detect Parasites Yourself
- Gastrointestinal Symptoms: Stomach cramps, diarrhea, or frequent nausea can be signs.
- Fatigue: Constant tiredness without a clear reason may suggest a parasitic infection.
- Skin Irritations: Rashes, hives, or eczema can be indicative.
- Anemia: Unexplained anemia can also be a sign.
Recommended Treatments and Prevention
- Antiparasitic Medication: The likes of mebendazole or albendazole are often recommended for soil-transmitted helminths.
- Herbal Treatments: Certain herbal treatments like wormwood and black walnut have been used traditionally, although scientific evidence of their efficacy is limited.
- Preventive Measures: Good hygiene, clean water, and regular deworming can significantly reduce the risk of parasitic infection.
What Types of Tests Are Available for Detecting Parasites?
The Coprological Test: A Common but Ineffective Method
The most popular test for detecting parasites is the coprological test, which involves the examination of fecal matter. Its effectiveness? Surprisingly low, at less than 10%.
Why is it So Ineffective?
- Sample Collection: This test is often administered to children, requiring a parent to collect a small sample of the child’s feces. Given that parasites release their eggs or waste products intermittently and not uniformly across all fecal matter, the chance of the sample containing evidence of parasites is low.
- Microscopic Examination: Even if the sample is collected properly, the next step involves examining it under a microscope. This doesn’t mean scanning the entire sample at once like an X-ray but rather slicing it into thin sections and examining multiple slides. There’s a high likelihood that the particular slide that might contain the parasite’s eggs won’t be the one examined.
- Human Error: Ultimately, this test is conducted by lab technicians whose level of attentiveness, skill, and motivation can vary. “The quality of diagnostic tests is often contingent on the individual conducting the test, and the risk of missing a diagnosis can be significant,” notes Dr. Mary Stevenson, an expert in parasitology.
Why is it Subjective?
The examination is a human-driven process, prone to subjectivity. Different technicians may interpret the same sample differently based on their training, attentiveness, or even personal biases. In addition, their salary is not dependent on the accuracy of the test, reducing the incentive for meticulous examination.
The Cumulative Effect: Low Overall Probability of Detection
When considering the entire chain of events—low probability of collecting the right sample, low probability of accurate microscopic examination, low probability of identifying any parasites—the overall chance of detection falls below 10%. This is extremely low.
Conclusion 1: Limitations of Coprological Testing
A coprological test has a low likelihood of detecting parasites and should not be considered conclusive evidence of the absence of parasites in the body.
The Blood Test Option: Also Not Foolproof
The next available diagnostic tool is a blood test, which detects antibodies specific to certain parasites. However, discussions with numerous infectious disease experts and parasitologists confirm suspicions that false-negative results can occur.
Why False Negatives?
Parasites are not unintelligent; they’ve evolved for millions of years to adapt to life inside a host. A key adaptation is their ability to suppress the host’s immune system, making themselves less detectable. In essence, a parasite aims to be as inconspicuous as possible within the host’s body.
A Curious Benefit to Humans
Interestingly, this parasitic behavior can sometimes be advantageous to humans. For example, some studies suggest that ascaridosis (infection by Ascaris worms) can increase the chances of conception. This happens because the parasites suppress the immune system, allowing a higher percentage of sperm to survive and reach the egg.
Conclusion 2: The Deceptive Nature of Parasites
If parasites have been in the human body for an extended period, they may adapt by suppressing the immune system. Consequently, antibodies may not always be present, making the absence of antibodies unreliable as proof of the absence of parasites.
Conclusion 3: The Medical Community’s Knowledge Gap
Given that coprological tests and antibody tests are unreliable, it’s worth noting that even medical professionals often lack awareness of indirect signs of parasitic infections. This is largely because medical education provides minimal training on the subject of parasitology.
Lack of Reliable Detection Methods and Expertise
So, not only do we have unreliable detection methods, but even the medical professionals that people turn to are often poorly qualified in this area, unfortunately. Yes, this is a widespread issue, but it’s often overlooked, and in some circles, it could even be considered shameful.
The Topic is Neglected Across Society and Medicine
The topic is seemingly suppressed in society, the public sphere, and even within the medical community. Bloggers, “Insta-doctors,” and enthusiastic experts who try to shed light on this subject are often dismissed as esoteric fanatics. These individuals are accused of seeing parasites everywhere and in everything.
A Balanced Approach is Needed
While these enthusiasts might sometimes exaggerate the issue, the formal medical community is doing the opposite by not adequately addressing it at all. Therefore, what we need is a logically justified, evidence-based approach to diagnosing and treating parasitic infections.
Signs and Symptoms of Parasitic Infections Without Tests
Actually, since we’ve established that parasites can live not only in the gastrointestinal tract but also in various organs, tissues, muscles, and lymphatic vessels—in essence, just about anywhere—there can be a multitude of symptoms associated with parasitic infections. For example, if a parasite resides in the lungs, you’ll experience lung-related symptoms. If it’s in the bile ducts, symptoms will manifest there. If it’s in the stomach, that’s where you’ll notice issues. Parasites feeding on the intestine from within can cause general symptoms like weakness, anemia, and declining blood test indicators, and so on.
Living in the muscles, they could cause muscle and joint pain. They might even reside in the lymphatic vessels, causing swelling, and so on. So, there’s no point in listing specific diagnoses; one needs to understand that since parasites can be just about anywhere, the symptoms can be equally varied. Naturally, when a person with such diverse symptoms visits a doctor, the doctor often looks for other causes and may not even consider parasites. They may diagnose and treat based on other factors or simply prescribe medication according to standard protocols, ignoring the possibility of parasites.
So, if you’ve had real-life experiences with parasites, please share how you dealt with it in the comments, because lived experiences are always very valuable and could help someone else.
Indirect Signs of Parasitic Infections You Can Detect at Home
Now let’s briefly discuss indirect signs of parasitic infections that you might be able to detect at home. Since I often work extensively with the human body, especially the abdomen, the first indirect sign of a parasitic infection is the recurrence of painful spasms in the abdominal area. Meaning, you examine the abdomen manually, find a painful area, relieve the spasms, and alleviate the pain using various methods. Then, either a day or two later, the pain returns in the same area or appears in a different one.
Why does this happen? Because a parasite is an unnatural phenomenon for the intestine. If the intestine detects it—which it always does—the mucosa and, let’s say, the discontented intestine try to expel the parasite. Therefore, they contract more actively than they might otherwise. This is perceived by the body as a sort of intestinal colic episode, hence causing pain.
The next symptom is constant swelling of the appendix located on the lower right side of the abdomen. The next sign is the condition of the tongue. Any deviation from the normal state of the tongue is an indirect sign of parasitosis. This could be plaque or damage to its surface, teeth grinding at night and drooling, brittleness and layering of the nails, peeling skin above the nails, acne rash, pigmentation spots, papillomas, cracks on the heels, weakness, headaches, allergies, attacks similar to asthma or a diagnosis of bronchial asthma, itching in the anal area, and disturbances from the central nervous system.
The concept of the central nervous system is stretchable. What specifically? For example, headaches and dizziness, attacks similar to migraines, vision impairments, epileptic seizures. There are large studies proving that there is a direct correlation between the percentage of epileptics and the percentage of parasitosis in a society. The more parasites, the more epileptics in society.
Let’s say you have indirect signs of parasitosis and you’ve decided to take anti-parasitic agents for prevention. There are two main groups of such agents: herbal remedies, which our ancestors used, and pharmaceutical drugs.
Herbal anti-parasitic remedies have their advantages: they are natural, do not harm the kidneys and liver, and generally have no contraindications except for individual intolerance to certain herbs or during periods of pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Pharmaceutical drugs have a potent effect and destroy almost all parasites, not only in the gastrointestinal tract but also in other tissues, as they spread throughout the body through the bloodstream. However, they also have drawbacks: the possibility of encountering counterfeits, hepatotoxic and nephrotoxic effects, meaning potential harm to the liver and kidneys.
It’s also worth noting that many herbal anti-parasitic agents have a bitter taste, which may be a problem when administered to children. Meanwhile, many pharmaceutical drugs are either tasteless or slightly sweet.
For children, it may be easier to take a chemical drug than a bitter herb. Moreover, there are anti-parasitic dietary supplements, which come in convenient forms like capsules or tasty liquids.
Therefore, anti-parasitic dietary supplements represent a convenient option for intake. They do not have the unpleasant taste characteristic of some herbs and are as easy to take as pills. They also remain natural. Although I’m not going to recommend any specific company, it’s important to choose products from a manufacturer you trust.
Prevention of Parasites
Many people wonder how to protect themselves from parasites. There are numerous remedies, including the ‘Genghis Khan recipe,’ which includes garlic, tansy, and wormwood, among other herbs. However, the most effective prevention against parasitosis is a well-functioning stomach and normal bile flow.
If the stomach is functioning correctly and the acidity is at the right level, even ingested parasite eggs are destroyed in the stomach. Bacteria, viruses, fungi—all are eliminated in the stomach’s acidic environment. According to a study published in the journal “Clinical and Vaccine Immunology,” gastric acid can effectively kill most ingested microbes (‘Effects of Gastric Acid on the Infectivity of Ingested Bacterial Pathogens,’ 2013). And even if some manage to survive, they are further destroyed by bile, which is even more aggressive.
The primary mode of parasite transmission is fecal-oral, meaning through the mouth, unwashed hands, and so on. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) emphasizes the importance of good hygiene to prevent such transmissions. But as you can see, parasites can and should be fought independently. There is nothing complicated or scary about this process. Everyone can protect themselves if they do it correctly.
Nature has equipped us with means for self-defense and prevention. The key is to monitor the state of your stomach, ensure normal bile flow, and, if necessary, use self-massage techniques. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) also suggests that maintaining a balanced diet and regular exercise can contribute to better gastrointestinal health, making it harder for parasites to establish an infection. Stay healthy!
The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only. The content presented on this website should be considered solely as opinions and personal experiences. Read more