I am not gonna lie to you. The thought of a worm crawling out of my ass while I sleep is almost as gross as thinking about the Suriname toad's reproduction cycle. The worm is called a pinworm, and it's a parasite. She crawls out of your butt while you sleep and lays thousands of eggs on and around your anus. The pinworm is only one of thousands of parasites that are interested in making a home out of your body.
Classification of parasites breaks into three groups: ectoparasites, protozoans, and helminths (worms). There are three subgroups of helminths. They are Trematoda (flukes), Cestoda (tapeworms), and Nematoda (roundworms). These are the five subjects of this article. This article is more of an overview of these groups of parasites. For detailed information about getting rid of specific parasites, read the full articles, which are hyperlinked. If there isn't a hyperlink, the article has not been written yet but it will be soon.
The Five Types of Parasites
Ectoparasites are skin dwellers that may or may not spend much time on your skin. Things like fleas, lice, bed bugs, ticks, leeches, swimmer's itch, and chiggers. These nasty little critters can cause some serious problems. Fleas, ticks and lice all can be hosts for much worse diseases and should be gotten rid of as soon as possible. Bed bugs are nasty, and there seems to be a recent rise in infestations. Some believe this comes from the influx of people within developing countries. All I know is the bed bugs have got to go.
Protozoans are single-celled organisms that often spend part of their life cycle outside of humans, like living in food, soil, water, or insects. Malaria is the most prolific of the protozoans. It infects 300–500 million people annually. It is transmitted when an infected mosquito bites someone. Giardia is also a common protozoa that is usually transmitted via contaminated water. But it has also been known to be found on raw or poorly cooked food. The treatments for malaria are chloroquine, quinine, primaquine, and mefloquine. Resistance to the drugs is growing, however, and the search for a more effective treatment is underway.
Trematoda are also known as flukes. Flukes usually take on the name of the place they are found. For example a fluke in a liver is a liver fluke. They almost always start their life cycle in a mollusk. They can find their way into human bodies either directly or indirectly—by eating an undercooked snail, crustacean, shellfish, or fish, or by drinking water that is contaminated with fluke eggs. Fluke infestations should be taken very seriously.
Cestoda are also called tapeworms. There are six tapeworms commonly found in humans: the beef tapeworm, the fish tapeworm, and the pork tapeworm. All are ingested with undercooked or raw meat. The dwarf tapeworm finds it way into our bodies directly from another person. The rodent tapeworm is common in rats and is usually transmitted accidentally by swallowing infected rat fleas, beetles, or cockroaches. The dog tapeworm is usually found in children who come in contact with an infected dog or cat fleas and lice. Treatment for tapeworm is effective.
Nematoda are also known as roundworms. Some of the common roundworms are ascarids, filariae, hookworms, pinworms, whipworms, and the trichina worm. With the help of public outcry, the trichina worm has been nearly eliminated from industrial meat, but wild animals are still a source of potential infection. Ascariasis lumbricoides is the largest of the roundworms. It is found wherever human feces are used as fertilizer and is also the most common intestinal worm. Treatments for roundworms vary. With trichinosis, treatment may not even be necessary. With most of the others, treatment consists of some form of anthelmintic—medications that kill worm infections.
Parasites are certainly no fun to hang out with, so here are some tips to help you avoid them in the future.
- If you are going to a malaria-prone zone, ask your doctor for some medication to take with you.
- If you are eating some wild game, make sure to cook it properly or freeze it for three weeks before eating it.
- When you're hiking, use mosquito spray and check for ticks when you get home. Never ever drink the water from streams, rivers, creeks, swamps, or lakes.
- Wash your hands after going to the bathroom or touching your anus.
- Wash all vegetables before eating them.
- And even though Anthony Bourdain, whom I love a lot, would hate me forever, if you don't want to get a parasite, don't eat questionable food. That includes food prepared in a dirty environment as well as raw, undercooked, or contaminated food. It's not that you will definitely get a parasite; it's just riskier.
As for me, I am still going to eat the choripan from dirty little grill stands in Argentina and eat at the Cambodian place with sticky tables. I will even eat the chicken feet at the Asian market on Nicollet because I love food and for me, it's worth the risk. Eating food is like taking a ride on a roller coaster. Some of them are really new and shiny with big beautiful sweeping curves and nice comfortable seats. But some are old rickety things made of wood that were around when my grandfather was my age. The seats aren't very comfortable, and you have no idea what the ride will be like or how it will end, but you can't get the same experience from the new roller coasters. They all look and feel the same—safe, bland, and eventually boring. Suddenly the old roller coaster starts to look better, edgier, and each ride is a new experience. That's what I love about questionable food—each time it's different, exciting, scary, and fun. But be warned: if you buy the ticket for the old roller coaster, you had better be prepared to take the ride.