Parasitic Infections

Parasitic Infections

Parasites are organisms that rely on another organism to live. Parasitic infections occur once a parasite enters the body.  Infections most often occur in areas of warmer climates and usually due to poor sanitation and/or poor personal hygiene. 

Causes of Parasitic Infections

Parasitic infections most often occur after eating contaminated food, when walking barefoot in contaminated soil, or placing soiled fingers in the mouth.  Parasitic infections can be caused by different types of parasites.  An estimated 500 million people are infected worldwide with intestinal parasites.  These contribute to thousands of deaths per year.  Girardiasis and Ameobiasis, both caused by tiny parasites known as amoebas, are becoming more common in the United States. 

Pinwork Infection

Pinwork is mainly spread by children, usually in day care centers, schools, and in homes where there are many small children.  Pinworms usually reside in the rectum or colon, but can easily get into the fingertips as well.  Pinworm eggs can remain in such fomites (inanimate objects) as clothing or linen as well as furniture and doorknobs. 


Trichonosis infections most commonly occur after consuming undercooked pork.  Trichinosis has a high tendency of infecting meat-mammals such as horses, rats, and pigs.

Roundworm and Hookworm

Roundworm and hookworm are typically found in tropical areas which human feces lie in heavily populated areas.  Cats and dogs can become infected and spread it top people as well.

Whipworm Disease

Children can ingest whipworm eggs after eating or drinking something without washing their hands.  A consequence of whipworm disease is rectal prolapse, which is a serious condition that involves bloody diarrhea in younger children. 

Tapeworm Infection

Tapeworm infection usually happens after eating contaminated beef or pork and can cause a tapeworm infection.

Since the U.S. adheres to strict guidelines in sanitation and hygiene, it occurs less in the US than in other parts of the world.  The most common cause of parasite infection in the US is usually by eating something that was not properly handled, such as in a restaurant.  Another is if someone travels to a lesser developed part of the world and becomes infected by a parasite, that person can then spread it in the U.S. through sexual intercourse.  Another risk factor for parasitic infection is drinking an infested water supply, which is more common in other countries, but has happened in the U.S.  Consuming raw vegetables, fruits, and meat are another cause.  Interestingly enough, cases of parasitic infections are on the rise associated with the popularity of sushi.  Evidence has even linked the use of antibiotics and immunosuppressive drugs in creating an environment by throwing off the normal balance in the intestinal system and making it much more amenable for parasitic growth and infection. 

Prevention of Parasitic Infections

Best prevention is good personal hygiene.  Hands should be washed before eating or drinking and after using the toilet.  Children should be encouraged to wash hands after playing outside. Food items should be thoroughly cooked before consumption.  Beware of raw beef, sushi, shellfish, and undercooked pork.    Use of a food grade hydrogen peroxide when cleaning utensils can decrease the spread of parasites.  Care must be taken when consuming unfiltered tap water.  Pets should be immediately treated for infection.

Symptoms of Parasitic Infections

Since parasites and parasitic eggs can latch onto different parts of the body, they can cause different types of symptoms.  There can be a serious consequence if the parasitic infection is left untreated.  Some of the symptoms associated with a parasitic infection upon an intestinal system include: abdominal pain, flatulence, foul smelling stool, constipation, and heartburn.  Some of the psychological symptoms associated with a parasitic infection include nightmares, irritability, and mood swings.  Additionally, parasitic infections can cause chronic fatigue, night sweats, and loss of appetite, hives and rash.  In women, parasites can promote development of a pelvic inflammatory disease called cervicitis and also, vaginitis, which can contribute to a loss in libido.  

How Parasitic Infections are Diagnosed


Stool samples can be used to look for the presence of parasites or their eggs.


Thin tube is inserted into the rectum or mouth and enables the doctor to look for the presence of parasites in the upper or lower intestines.


This is done to see if organs have been enlarged by a parasite or whether cysts have developed due to a parasitic infection.

Detection of parasites is usually done by examining stool samples.  This can be misleading since parasites can attach onto the mucosal surface of the intestine, and avoid escape.  Intestinal biopsies can also produce misleading results. 

A more accurate method was found by Dr. Herman Bueno.  In this exam, a rectal swab is taken and fluorescent stains are utilized to identify the protozoan parasites. 

Parasitic Infections Treatment

Metronidazole is the accepted medical drug of choice to get rid of intestinal parasites.  It can cause serious side effects, notably seizures and peripheral neuropathy, or nerve damage to the extremities.

Herbal Treatments

Goldenseal (Hydrastis Canadensis)

This is a proven ameobicide due to the compound berberine, which occurs in five herbs that have a characteristic appearance of yellow roots, most notably goldenseal, goldthread, barberry, Oregon grape, and Yellow-root.  Extreme care must be taken when using this medication since the LD50 (Lethal dose that has killed half of the people that have taken) is only ten times higher than the proven, therapeutic dose for getting rid of intestinal parasites.  Goldenrseal has a risk of causing miscarriage, so women who are pregnant or plan to get pregnant, must not use this treatment.   Consultation with doctor is recommended before taking this herb.

One study has demonstrated goldenseal’s effectiveness when compared with metronidazole.  40 children with girardia, almost half treated with Goldenseal stopped experiencing symptoms; only 33 % of those treated with metronidazole felt similar relief. 

Ipecac (Cephaleis ipecacuanha)

Ipecac is popularly known as the emergency treatment to induce vomiting when a child ingests a poison. This has another major role in tropics where it originates from, to kill amoebas.  Ipecac has three compounds, cephaline, dehy-drometine, and emetine, which are ameobicidal compounds. 

An expert panel in Germany which judges the safety and effectiveness of herbal medicines for the country recommends taking 30 drops of an ipecac mixture (which contains both ipecac and alcohol).  This treatment only needs to be taken once.

Elecampane (Inula helenium)

This is a common North American herb that contains two anti-amoebic compounds, isoalantolactone and alantolactone.  Herbalists recommend boiling a cup of watter, dropping this one teaspoon of herb, and let it simmer for 20 minutes.  This can be ingested up to three cups a day. 

Papaya (Carica papaya)

This fruit contains both anti-parasitic and antiseptic compounds. 

Sweet Annie (Artemisia annua)

Though Sweet Annie or its active ingredient, arteminsinin have been approved as effective and safe for treating intestinal parasites, it has been proven by research studies conducted in China and at the Walter Reed Army Research Institute in Washington, D.C., to fight malarial organisms that are similar to amoba. 

Cubeb (Piper cubeba)

Cubeb is a spice that is related to the black pepper.  In an update in the “The Encyclopedia of Natural Ingredient” there are studies that cite cubeb as an effective treatment of amoebic dysentery.  Cubeb has been a staple of traditional Ayurvedic Indian Medicine. 

Other Treatments

Weekly colonics can aid in prevention and treatment of parasitic infection since the bowels are cleansed to eliminate a potential breeding ground for parasites.  Colon therapy also helps in the fortification of the digestive system.

Supplements such as B12 and magnesium are a good preventative measure. 

Some other treatments of parasitic infections include ozone therapy, hydrogen peroxide therapy, and the application of tea tree oil, acidophilus, and colloidal silver.


  1. Bratman, S. The Alternative Medicine Ratings Guide: an expert panel rates the best treatments for over 80 conditions, Prima Health A Division of Prima Publishing (1998)
  2. Brown, L. Alternative Medicine, NTC/Contemporary Publishing (1999)
  3. Deepak Chopra, M.D. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide, Celestial Arts (2002)
  4. Duke, J. The Green Pharmacy: Herbal remedies for common diseases and conditions from the world's foremost authority on healing herbs,Rodale Limited (2003)
  5. Nancy Allison. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Body-Mind Disciplines, The Rosen Publishing Group (1999)
  6. Servan-Schreiber, D. The Encyclopedia of New Medicine: Conventional & Alternative Medicine For All Ages, Rodale International Limited (2006)

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