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Gut parasite infections: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About gut parasite infections

There are various parasites which live in human intestines and cause infection. They can be single-celled like Giardia or multicellular roundworms like Ascaris. Other gut parasites include whipworm and flukes. Gut parasitic infections are characterised by gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhoea and abdominal pain.

Gut parasite infections: Incidence, age and sex

Such intestinal parasitic infections are usually seen in places where sanitation practices are poor and hygiene inadequate. Individuals of any age may be afflicted with this infection. However, children and elderly individuals are more susceptible to such infections.

Signs and symptoms of gut parasite infections: Diagnosis

The most prominent symptom is increased frequency of loose stools (also called diarrhoea) which is accompanied with abdominal cramps in most of the individuals. Sometimes, individuals may also complain of mucous in stools. Non-specific features like fatigue, pain in joints and loss of appetite may also be seen. Other features, which are less commonly encountered are mild fever, headache and nausea.

The affected individual may show signs of dehydration if diarrhoea is severe and persistent. Such signs constitute dryness of mouth, sunken eyes, dry and pinched skin, lethargy, diminished urine output and palpitations. A detailed history and examination may help in detecting the parasitic infection which can be confirmed by isolating the offending parasite in stool culture. A simple blood test may reveal low haemoglobin which signifies anaemia and increased eosinophils which signify a parasitic infection.

Causes and prevention of gut parasite infections

Gut parasitic infections can be caused by several parasites namely roundworm like Ascaris lumbricoides, whipworm-like Trichuris trichura, hookworm-like Ancyclostoma duodenale and single-celled protozoa like Giardia lamblia. Most of these infections are water-borne diarrhoeal illness which spread in the population through ingestion of contaminated water and food.

Such infections can be prevented by maintaining adequate hygiene measures and drinking boiled or filtered water. Regular hand-washing before eating food is a must in preventing intestinal infections. Moreover, it is advisable not to enter contaminated water barefoot since it may result in dracunculiasis.

Gut parasite infections: Complications

Gut parasitic infections are usually a mild to moderate in severity and require immediate and adequate replenishment with fluids. However, in certain individuals where water loss from body is abundant, dehydration may ensue. If dehydration is not managed timely, it may worsen, leading to electrolyte imbalance, occasional seizures or even death. Longstanding infection may progress to malabsorption, anaemia and loss of weight.

Gut parasite infections: Treatment

Some parasitic infections are self-limiting and generally resolve with time. Meanwhile, symptomatic relief and adequate hydration results in complete recovery, in most cases. Fluids can be given orally or even intravenously depending on the grade of dehydration and condition of the individual. Some individuals may need anti-parasitic medications like metronidazole or furazolidone for effective elimination of parasites from gut. However pregnant women should refrain from taking these medications in view of their harmful effects on the baby. Furthermore, probiotic agents are recommended in individuals who are prone for parasitic gut infections. These probiotics help in re-establishing the normal intestinal flora which may have been disturbed by the intestinal parasites.