Intestinal parasites

Author: 
Adoptive Families Association of BC
Source: 
AFABC Special Needs Database
More on these topics: 

Definition
A parasitic infection of the intestinal area in which the invading parasite lives in and survives off the host’s body. The parasite will take what it needs with no regard to the host, which results in illness or at least discomfort for most people.   

Causes
Intestinal parasites are spread through direct contact with the contaminant. It varies depending on the parasite in question but a combination of crowded areas, and poor hygiene, increases the chance of infection drastically. Soil, water, food, wastes or even other humans can be carriers for the parasites.

Contrary to common conception, it is the eggs that do the most damage to the host’s body and not the worms. While the worms do inhibit nutrient absorption and may block passages in the intestines, the eggs have a sharp barb, which they attach to the tissue of organs and blood vessels. This barb rips holes in the tissue and scarring occurs as the body repairs it. Depending on the number of eggs, the site of infection can become scarred so badly that it inhibits function. For example, if the infection is in the bladder, the eggs can damage the bladder enough to reduce its effectiveness, and possibly even cause cancer.

Characteristics
Intestinal parasites are more common in the developing world where access to clean water and personal hygiene is minimal. In some places, no medicine will be given out for those with parasites, because the chance of reinfection is almost certain. Also, it is possible to house more than one type of parasite at the same time. 

Symptoms may include:

  • Anemia
  • Diarrhea
  • Growth delays
  • Malabsorption of nutrients
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain and/or distension
  • Intestinal obstruction

At times it can also induce irritability, behavioural changes, and pulmonary issues as well. Without treatment the parasites can multiply and eventually starve the host body.

The most common parasites include:

  • Giardia
  • Entamoeba histolytica
  • Dientamoeba fragilis
  • Schistosomia
  • Ascaris
  • Hookworm
  • Strongyloides

Treatment
Treatment depends on the specific parasite causing the problems. Stool samples should be tested repeatedly to ensure that all parasites have been discovered as they may not all appear upon first testing. 


This resource is by no means intended as a substitute for a doctor's advice or diagnosis. Any concerns you may have with regard to your child's health and development should be discussed with a professional in an appropriate field.