MN, M.D.: Is It True Parasites Are Everywhere And I Can Get Them In Any Part Of My Body?

May 6, 2013  |  

Q: Is it true that parasites are everywhere and you can get them in any part of your body? How can I protect myself from them?

Parasites are everywhere.  You can find them in the soil, water, and even in foods that you consume.  They are microscopic organisms that depend on another being (eg, humans) to live on or in and get food from or at the expense of their host.  Fleas that you find on dogs, hair lice that you remember someone in your elementary class having, and the dreadful crabs you heard about are all examples of parasites that can attack the human body.  Yes, you can even find them in the eyes, especially in those who wear contact lenses frequently.

Tapeworms are common examples of parasites seen in foods such as beef and pork.  You can also get parasites from untreated water (eg, drinking from a river).  The best way to protect yourself is to only drink treated municipal water.  When hiking, camping, or traveling to other countries where the water may not be fully sanitized, make sure your drinking water has been boiled for 1 minute.  Bringing bottled water can also be a way to prevent getting parasites. Drink only pasteurized milk and juices. Wash raw fruits and vegetables before eating and always make sure you cook meats to the point that they are safe to consume (145o to 165o internal temperature, depending on the meat).

Other parasites are acquired through close contact.  Head lice can be transmitted through casual contact while pubic lice (aka crabs) can be acquired via sexual contact. Anyone living with people who have lice should be examined for lice and treated.  If you happen to sleep on the same bed as the person with lice, you should be treated for lice even if you don’t appear to have it yet.  Clothing, bedding, and towels used 2 days before the person was treated should be washed in hot water and dried in an electric dryer on the hot setting. You can use a vacuum to clean furniture, car seats, and carpets.  Things that can’t be washed or vacuumed can be sealed in a plastic bag for two weeks.  It is important to know that head lice can’t survive outside the body for more than 48 hours so any items used more than 2 days before treatment is not likely to still have the lice.  As for pubic lice, be careful who you sleep with.  Public lice tend to be a problem in areas of poverty and among those who have very low levels of personal hygiene.  As it is considered a sexually transmitted disease, you may want to get tested for other STDs as well.

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