We live in a sea of microorganisms that inhabit the air, water, food, soil, mineral deposits, on our skin, inside our intestinal tracts and many areas in the body. Bacteria outnumbers body cells by 10 to 1. A healthy balance of bacteria is important for our health. Bacteria provides a protection for our skin, sinuses, immune system, digestive system protecting us against unfriendly invaders. So what are unfriendly invaders? Nematodes (round worms), Crestodes (Tape worms), Tremadodes (flukes), Protozoa (Amoebas), Anthropods (insects) are the types of some unfriendly bugs we get in the body not including virus’ or fungal infections.
According to the CDC, most people think of parasitic diseases occurring in poor and developing countries, something they might pick up on an overseas trip. However, parasitic infections still occur in the US and in some cases affect millions of people. Often they can go unnoticed with few symptoms and many times these infections cause serious illnesses, including seizures, blindness, heart failure and even death. More than 300,000 persons living are infected with Trypanosoma cruzi, the cause of Chagas disease. At least 1,000 people are hospitalized with neurocysticercosis every year. Each year at least 70 people, most of them children, are blinded by the parasite that causes Toxocariasis. More than 60 million persons are chronically infected with Toxoplasma gondii. 3.7 million people in the US are infected with Trichomonas.
So what are these diseases mentioned above?
Chagas disease is preventable but initial infections usually does not cause severe symptoms and is often not even diagnosed. After years of chronic infection some people develop diseases such as abnormal heart rhythms, heart failure, gastrointestinal problems like constipation, difficulty swallowing and risk of sudden death. So imagine that you go to your physician and tell them your heart is skipping beats, like speeding up for a few seconds and then calms down. Your Dr. will probably not even think about parasites. He or She may do some tests, like an EKG, blood work and prescribe a drug never even getting to the cause of the problem.
Neurocysticercosis is preventable caused by larval cysts of the pork tapeworm, taenia solium and can infect different parts of the body, even the brain causing seizures and can be fatal. This tapeworm is caused by eating undercooked, infected pork. Helpful ideas to avoid this infection is to make sure your pork meat is fully cooked but I always recommend to my patients, bring your pork home from the store and freeze it before eating it and again, make sure you cook it to 165 degrees.
Toxocariasis is preventable caused by the larval form of the dog or cat roundworms, Toxocara canis and Toxocara Cati. These larvae are found in Dog and Cat feces and are accidentally ingested from dirt containing the eggs causing fever, coughing or can lead to severe illness, including inflammation of the liver or blindness. Visual impairment can be permanent.
Toxoplasmosis is preventable and caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Typical symptoms can be fever, malaise, swollen lymph nodes but can also have no symptoms at all. Some people experience eye disease and infection. During pregnancy can lead to miscarriage or severe disease in the newborn including developmental delays, blindness, and epilepsy. In persons with advanced HIV disease, inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) is common unless long-term supplemental or medicinal support is used. Mental illness is also associated too with this type of infection. So guess what, let’s say you are depressed and go to your primary care physician and they put you on anti-depressants never getting to the cause. By the way, Anti-depressants are very dangerous drugs. Many of the known traumatic events like someone going into a store, theater or restaurant, pulling a gun and hurting or killing people has been associated with the side effects of Anti-depressants.
Trichomoniasis is the most common curable sexually transmitted disease in the US. Caused by the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis. About 3.7 million people in the US are infected and do not have any signs or symptoms. If there are symptoms, they would be redness, soreness or itching of the genitals, burning with urination or discharge. Without treatment, infection can last for months or even years.
Why even be concerned with what I am sharing? Because the fact that medical schools in the US, Canada and other developed countries consistently reduce the amount of time spent on parasitic diseases in the curriculum. As a result most medical students receive limited information about these diseases and are inadequately prepared to diagnosis or treat them as physicians. This problem is too large to be resolved within the time available for parasitology in the medical school curriculum , at most, students can be acquainted with the feature of the medically important parasites only. Most physicians are unable to think about the differential diagnosis of parasitic diseases in the same way that they routinely balance the probabilities of malignancy, cardiovascular, renal and pulmonary disease versus other infectious diseases. I also share this with you because I routinely have patients perform a stool lab to determine the state of health of their digestive systems, especially when their blood chemistry shows a chronic infection that their primary care physician has missed and often they have infections of fungal, parasites and bacterial overgrowth. Recently, a patient went to four MD’s to learn why she passed out, and all of them could not find any problems in blood chemistry. I found a chronic infection, and in looking further a stool lab determined she has a parasite that travels to the brain.
First a person should have a full body complete wellness blood profile that I recommend. If there are signs of a chronic infection then recommendations of a stool lab for parasitic, fungal, bacterial overgrowth or imbalance and a viral blood lab should be performed. Together we will find the cause. Why do this? The real questions is; Do you want to live vibrantly or just get by. If you are unhappy with the ups and downs in how you feel then don’t wait until it becomes a full incurable disease.