It’s not a pretty sight. You take a simple trip to the restroom to relieve yourself and notice that there might be something moving in the water after you’ve cleared the throne. You dismiss it, thinking, “it was already there” before you used the facility, but a few days later you begin to feel foggy and weak, and you can’t seem to tear yourself away from the commode. Chances are, you have been infected with a parasite, and it might be a parasite that feeds on blood.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one person in every four harbors parasitic worms. Parasitic worms can cause all of the symptoms listed above as well as:
Loss of appetite
The reason parasitic worms cause such unpleasant symptoms is, these pathogens feed on everything from the contents of the intestines and stomach to blood. Flukes, members of the class Trematoda, are internal parasites that infect the blood and organs. While they are rare in the U.S., flukes that feed on human blood are common in North Africa, Southeast Asia, and other tropical areas. They live on the blood inside of the blood vessels of the human intestines. As a result, they cause many of the symptoms listed above, but they can also cause death.
Flukes need a host. They feed on the blood of the host causing extreme illness and weakness. The weakness leads to other conditions that can cause death. If the host is not treated immediately, the worms will continue to feed, the infection will spread, and the host will either die as a direct result of the infection or from a disease that he has contracted in his weakened state.
In the United States, there are only two types of blood flukes and they are found in lakes and streams. These blood flukes prefer water birds and fish, not humans. However, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), blood flukes affect less than 200,000 people in the U.S. each year. This classifies blood flukes as a “rare disease” by the Office of Rare Diseases (ORD).
In developed countries, access to treatments is far superior to undeveloped countries. This, and not necessarily the fluke infection, may be a major cause of death in cases overseas. Blood fluke can be treated with anthelmintic (anti-worm) drugs. These drugs are used to treat a variety of worm conditions including pinworms, tapeworms, and roundworms. Anthelmintic drugs are also used to treat a lymphatic condition called “elephantiasis.”
To avoid a fluke infection, it’s best to avoid swimming in lakes and streams. If you are planning to visit an undeveloped country, please speak with your physician about anti-parasite shots. In addition, avoid unsanitary public restrooms, hotel rooms, and other areas where flukes breed. Remember, the sewer systems in undeveloped countries are poor to non-existent. In the U.S. sewage systems work like a well-oiled machine killing parasites and other viruses in processing. This means, the water in toilets (yes toilets) in the U.S. is “clean” and parasite free. No so in undeveloped countries. Because the systems are so poor or non-existent, chances are you will a number of different (and dangerous) parasites, among other things, in your toilet water, sink water, or bath water.
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