Common parasite infections all parents should know about

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When one mum squeezed the boils that erupted on her child's skin, she was ill-prepared for what came out of them...

It’s normal for children to fall ill from common illnesses like the cold and flu. As parents, we are well equipped with information on symptoms and treatment of such sicknesses. However, other gruesome infections – like parasite infections in humans – may also (bur rarely) befall our children.

Just look at recent post making its rounds on Facebook about how a few boils on a child turned out to be a nightmare.

Mum shares how kid’s boils turned out to be one of many parasite infections in humans

In her Facebook post, Aribalusi Adelemi, a mum in Africa, shares that her son had four tiny boils – one each on the head, chest, leg and finger. She thought it was just a minor infection that would pass, and even the doctor only prescribed antibiotic cream.

At one point, her son started crying that the boils were hurting, especially at night. Adelemi gave him paracetamol – but it wasn’t enough.

It was only after three days that one of the boils erupted, secreting pus. The mum pressed down on the the boil, and to her horror, it released a live maggot.

A nightmarish scene indeed. After ringing the doctor, the panicked mum was advised to press all the boils and there were maggots in all of them. She then cleansed the boil sites with alcohol. After a prescription for antibiotics, her son finally slept undisturbed – after four days of suffering.

The tumbu fly 

What was the cause? According to the doctor, the culprit is the Tumbu fly. The fly lays its eggs on clothes (damp or not) left outdoors. The eggs can also cling onto the clothes if they fall onto the grass.

Once you wear the clothes, the egg burrows into the skin leading to parasite infections in humans. It eventually hatches under the skin to release a maggot. At nightfall, the maggot can move, causing pain. That’s why her son was shouting so much at bedtime. 

But it’s not just kids. Babies, toddlers and even adults, too can suffer from tumbu maggot infestation.  

 

Read up more on what happened in the actual Facebook post below:

 

Parasite infections in humans: Asian/ tropical infections

You might think, Africa is so far away so why should I worry? And while it’s true that the Tumbu fly is native to Africa, there are other common tropical parasites found in our part of the world that parents should know about. Here’s a short guide of four common parasite infections in humans common in Asia.

1. Cryptosporidiosis

src=https://sg admin.theasianparent.com/wp content/uploads/sites/12/2018/11/parasite infections in humans intext 1.jpg Common parasite infections all parents should know about

Parasite infections in humans normally don’t come with sources that have been processed, but cryptosporidium can protect itself from chlorination in pools. | Image Source: youtube

What is it, and what are its symptoms?

Cryptosporidiosis is a disease that mostly affects young kids. The usual symptom of Cryptosporidiosis is diarrhoea. 

Where is it found, and how does it spread?

The pathogen spreads when unclean surfaces containing faecal matter enters the body. Many infections happen via:

  • physical contact between people 
  • physical contact between a person and an animal or pet
  • accidentally drinking contaminated water (usually while swimming)
  • eating unclean food. 

Much of the time, the disease spreads from contact with water. Typically, the disease arises from municipal water containing the pathogen and areas used for recreation, like pools and lakes. 

Authorities have now acknowledged Cryptosporidium as the most common source of diarrhoea in water-based recreation activities. It’s especially common in areas that are already disinfected, because the pathogen’s dormant form isn’t killed from pool chlorination. Furthermore, it can also thrive for a long time in its surroundings.

What should I do if my child gets the disease?

Do not let them enter water bodies, as they can shed the infectious pathogen there, infecting others. 

Instead, consult your paediatrician who will advise on treatment. Ensure your child gets enough liquids to prevent dehydration. 

What you can do though, parents, is to provide your child enough fluids and water. Your doctor might even recommend a rehydrating formula to compensate for the loss of nutrients from the diarrhoea.

2. Scabies

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Parasite infections in humans: Scabies is a common skin condition that arises form a mite burrowing into the skin. | Image Source: youtube

What is it, and what are its symptoms?

Human scabies is an extremely itchy skin condition which is coupled with a rash. The red patches of skin are caused by a parasitic mite called Sarcoptes scabiei var hominis.

Where is it found, and how does it spread?

Scabies usually occurs more in children and sexually active people compared to others. In fact, a previous study found that these conditions are likely to risk scabies infection:

  • being young
  • housing many kids under one roof 
  • using the same clothes and towels of other family members
  • not regularly showering

What should I do if my child gets the disease?

If you think your child has scabies, bring her or her to the paediatrician who will prescribe the appropriate treatment. If you or your child has scabies, be sure to avoid physical contact with people. It’s only after about a day of treatment that scabies patients can resume work or school.

3. Giardiasis

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Giardia starts parasite infections in humans by hanging out in contaminated water. | Image Source: youtube

What is it, and what are its symptoms?

Giardia is a microorganism and parasite that is so common it can be found all over the world. When Giardia enters the intestine, it causes Giardiasis. The main symptom is diarrhoea.

Giardia infection with kids is much more common than in adults. In developing countries without proper access to medication, Giardia is responsible for major diarrhoea in kids. These kids become stunted, and suffer from developmental delays compared to their peers.

Where is it found, and how does it spread?

The microorganism is found in water obtained from natural bodies of water like lakes, streams, and ponds, and, very rarely filtered water.

Giardia infects people in polluted, dirty areas, or when personal hygiene is poor. It spreads in a lot of ways, like when:

  • you drink or eat contaminated water and food. Much of the time a serious outbreak can happen if food-handlers are infected with Giardia and pass it on.
  • daycare staff change diapers of an infected kid, but do not wash their hands properly. It’s very infectious. Giardia can easily spread between kids and daycare staff or among patients and their families in hospitals.

What should I do if my child gets the disease?

Visit your paediatrician without delay. Your child’s doctor will most likely prescribe antibiotics for your child. In the meantime, do keep your child hydrated with fluids as much as you possibly can. Children or even adults who are ill with diarrhoea can lose a lot of water and nutrients.

If you are cleaning your child’s poo, do consider using gloves and washing your hands adequately so that you won’t spread the disease.

4. Tape worms 

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Tapeworms are one of the many parasite infections in humans that can happen. | Image Source: Stock Photo

What is it, and what are its symptoms?

Tapeworms are long worms which are parasites. They need to enter another organism to grow into an adult. Worms which do mature remain alive in the guts of humans.  

Humans become infected by tapeworms when we eat food containing their larva. We can’t see this larvae – they come from tiny mealworms or grain beetles which end up in our food like dried grains, cereals, flour, and dried fruit.

Symptoms differ with different varieties of tapeworms, and depend on how strong the immune system is. Still, in general people complain of generic gut issues like stomach pain, itchy bottoms, losing weight, or general fatigue.

Other possible symptoms include anemia, vitamin B-12 deficiency, loss of balance, dementia and becoming confused. You’ll know if you’ve got the worm once you use the loo and see part of the worm in faeces, and on toilet paper or underwear. 

Where is it found, and how does it spread?

As stated before, mature worms thrive in the human gut. Thus faecal matter in the environment allows the worm to keep on spreading. 

Children mainly contract tapeworms because they like to explore and aren’t as well informed about hygiene. One tapeworm, for instance, lives in fleas that come along with cats and dogs. While the tapeworm doesn’t specifically target kids, kids who are in contact with pets often may get the tapeworm more than adults. 

What should I do if my child gets the disease?

The first thing to do is consult a doctor. They will be able to accurately diagnose whether you do have the worm or not. Depending on the symptoms, your doctor will advise different forms of medicine, such as:

  • medicine that helps to kill these worms (called antihelminthic agents) for gut infestation. 
  • supplementing vitamin B12 in specific parts of the body 
  • antiepileptic medicine for neurological conditions, like seizures. Serious neurologic issues, like anaphylaxis or organ failure, will need extra care in the emergency department. 
  • surgery, for really serious conditions (your doctor will tell you if this is needed)

Certain infections with multiple symptoms may need a combination of the above medication.

Parents, we hope this article on parasite infections in humans has been helpful to you in diagnosing whether your child may have a parasite or not.

References: Facebook, Medscape, NCBI, youtube (for image screenshots: cryptosporidium, scabies, giardia).

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