Helminth vs Protozoa
You probably know what a parasite is… but, did you know that there are two basic types?
One of the two main types comes in the form of tinsy-tiny microscopic organisms, called Protozoa. These microscopic parasites invade the boy in a similar way as a virus, or bacteria; that is, they interact with our body on a cellular level. After all, they are microscopic, and therefore, not so easy to detect (unlike some of their counterparts).
Helminths are parasitic worms, which, primarily inhabit the digestive tract. These are the one’s people are more familiar with.
Wormy looking things.
Moving through other parts of the body during the different stages of their life, and in rare cases, making their way to the darndest of places (like the eye ball).
Here at Pass Parasites, this is what we mainly focus on, is helminths. AKA parasitic worms.
Most people seem surprised to discover, parasitic worms are a bit more prevalent than most people think.
The big bad hookworm. Although, by no means the most common parasite in the developed world, let’s get this one out of the way first. Since, the hookworm seems to be the poster child for scary-spooky parasites; the kind that haunt people’s nightmares, we might as well chop em’ down to size (which is really quite tiny).
Ah yes, the notorious hookworm. Ready to sink it’s teeth in, dig it’s way into your body, and go right in for a free helping, compliments of you.
Hookworms are a type of roundworm, and the two most common types of of these roundworms, the Ancylostoma duodenale, and the Necator americanus deserve special attention, because these hookworms are successful at what they do
Although not super prevalent in most developed countries, there are still plenty of these suckers making their way around many parts of the globe. In fact, if you live in the developed word, you are most likely to come into contact with hookworms if and when you travel, or, if you happen to live somewhere with a more tropical climate.
Hookworm infections are widespread in warm, tropical, and sub-tropical places, especially in areas where sewage disposal is inadequate. Although less developed countries are more significantly affected by this, hookworm parasites still show a presence in some developed countries as well, mainly those in tropical climates, such as australia.
The adult hookworm is about 1 cm in length, and is about the thickness of a pin.
The worm will suck the blood from it’s humans host for as long as it possibly can. An infection can become serious quick if there are too many worms in the intestine sucking blood from the same host. When this happens, the host loses too much blood, and too much iron.
This can cause the body to become anaemic (pale and weak); fever; diarrhea, or constipation.
In extreme cases hookworm infestation can stop a person from thinking and moving properly. It can also slow down a child’s growth.
Infection often starts with humans or animals walking through infected soil or water.
The eggs are hardy, they can survive in soil or water for several weeks. Tiny larvae will then hatch out, and if the soil is wet the larvae will develop to a stage where they can infect people.
What helps give the tapeworm it’s haunting status is that, unlike many other common parasitic worms, hookworms don’t even need to be ingested. They can borrow right in through a person’s skin, usually when that person comes into contact with water, soil or feces which is infected with hookworm larvae.
Once inside a person, the hookworm will lay eggs inside the intestines of the host. Then, these eggs pass through the digestive system, and sometimes get into the soil or water when infected human feces has been left on the ground or from faulty or broken sewage systems.
And so, the cycle continues…
All these eggs need to do is develop, and then, make contact with more people or animals.
Whether by physical contact, or consumption. Whether through food and drink, or simply putting your hand on your mouth.
People in tropical areas (tropical areas of australia, for example) who walk around in contaminated wet places without shoes are very likely to get infected.
Inside the body, the larvae travel through the blood stream and to the lungs, where they are coughed up and then swallowed. Only then do they finally reach the intestines where they develop into adult worms.
Adult worms are able to attach themselves to the walls of the intestines. They have hooks around the mouth which allow them to do this. They live there and suck blood from the human host.
What to look for with hook worms?
It’s tricky, because infections don’t often produce symptoms, especially if you take in a lot of iron.
Infections are often diagnosed if a person is found to be anemic or iron-deficient, since hookworms actually suck the blood out of the intestine wall.
If the hookworm enters through the skin, itchiness and rash are often the first symptoms produced.
Health care providers can diagnose hookworm by taking a stool sample and using a microscope to look for the presence of hookworm eggs.
As with the hookworm, many roudworms are also found in tropical regions of the world. But, like the hookworm, the roundworm is by no means limited to the tropics.
In fact, this nematode is one of the most common causes of parasitic infection in the world, and considered by many experts to be the second most common type of parasite infection in the United States. (After pinworms)
According to the University Of Maryland Medical Center, Ascariasis, the most common type of roundworm, is thought to infect as many as 1 Billion people around the world.
They are the largest of the nematodes affecting humans, and roundworms usually live in the intestines.
Depending on their environment and where they are in their life cycle, they can range in size from 1 millimeter to 1 meter.
Roundworm parasites are most commonly contracted through “fecal-oral” contamination, which means consuming either eggs or larva directly in or on your food or drinks. Or, touching something that was contaminated with eggs or larva, and then touching your mouth or face.
Some roundworms can also get into the body through the directly through the skin, these roundworms are often referred to as hookworms. So, although most often transferred by ingestion, some types can enter the body through physical contact alone.
Once inside, the eggs hatch and quickly penetrate the intestinal wall where they enter the bloodstream.
From there, the roundworm makes its way to the lungs, from where it is coughed up and swallowed, returning it to the gut.
Here, the parasite makes it’s home. While feeding off of it’s host, it mates and produces more eggs. These eggs then pass through the host, and ensure that the life cycle of the parasite can continue.
(Schistosomiasis mansoni, S. haematobium, S. japonicum)
Small flukes live in the bloodstream of infected hosts and cause schistosomiasis, also called bilharzia.
They live in water, and penetrate the skin of victims who come into contact wit the contaminated water. Or, they are contracted when a person eats uncooked fish, vegetables, fruits and meat which has been exposed to fluke infested water.
This flatworm will usually set up shop in the small intestine, grow in numbers, and then make it’s way to the rest of the body via the blood stream and lymphatic system.
Certain types of these parasites can cause inflammation and damage to organs, especially the liver. Flukes that infect the liver ingest all of the bile, and when this happens the human host is not be able to digest and absorb fat in the diet.
The adult worms can persist in their human host for decades, and may not cause any symptoms for years.
Flukes effect around 300 million people word-wide. Mostly in Asia, but recently identified cases are on the rise in the United States.
The most common types of flukes are:
Intestinal Fluke- this flatworm lives in the small intestine causing numerous digestive issues.
Liver Fluke- this species actually eats your liver and blood causing problems with fat metabolism and systemic inflammation.
Blood Fluke- causes infection in the blood that can cause fever and also can spread throughout the bloodstream to affect other organs and glands of the body.
Lung Fluke- causes irritation and inflammation in the upper respiratory tract; symptoms closely mimic that of a bacterial or viral infection.
Taenia Solium is the pork tapeworm. That’s right, this tapeworm comes from pork and is mostly found in countries where pork is eaten.
This worm is long and flat, and it attaches itself into its victims intestines using hooks on it’s head. It is usually around 2-3 meters in length when fully grown, but it has been reported to grow as large as 8 meters in some cases!
These tapeworms mature over 3-4 months, during which time the reproductive organs develop. Once fully grown, they can survive for up to 25 years in humans.
Their eggs are excreted in feces and can survive on vegetation, where they are then consumed by cattle or pigs, and passed back on to humans. And so, the life cycle of the parasite continues.
Taenia saginata, the beef tapeworm resembles the pork tapeworm, although on average a bit larger. Generally, 4 to 10 meters in length, some beef tapeworms have been reported to be over 20 meters!
This tapeworm may be one of the biggest variety, but that is not it’s only identifying features. This tapeworm lacks hooks, and instead only uses ‘suckers’ so secure it’s grasp.
Suiting to its name, the beef tapeworm spends a part of its life cycle inside cows. For this reason, the beef tapeworm is most prevalent in cattle country, and found amongst people consuming a lot of beef.
Diphyllobothrium, the fish tapeworm, can be contracted by humans through the consumption of raw or undercooked fish.
Sorry sashimi lovers.
This parasite is most prevalent in countries who consume a lot of seafood and fish, and especially those countries whose customs consist of consuming raw or undercooked fish.
This tapeworm inhabits the intestines and acts much like the other tapeworms on our list. Although, averaging 10 meters, this is the largest tapeworm found in humans on average. And, shedding up to a million eggs a day, … it’s no wonder these suckers are finding their way into our world.
Hymenolepis nana, the dwarf tapeworm, is the most common human tapeworm in Australia, and another one of the most common of the tapeworm varieties in the world.
As with most other parasitic infections:
Humans become infected directly, by touching the mouth with fingers contaminated with feces containing the eggs. Or, indirectly, by ingesting the eggs in contaminated food or water, or by swallowing and insect which has ingested eggs which have then hatched into larvae inside of the insect.
What to look for with tapeworms?
- Tapeworm infection can be indicated by small rice like particles found in the stools. (Sometimes, you can even see them with your eyes).
- These small, white, grainy particles are actually pieces of the tapeworm. Pieces that it has been shedding off.
- A tapeworm is a type of flatworm, and although it is long, it has a rather flat body. It looks like a long strip of tape.
- A tapeworm grows by segments
- And, can potentially grow to lengths exceeding 60 feet!
Tapeworms are often caused by eating undercooked beef, pork or fish.
- There aren’t usually many symptoms, so most infected people often don’t even realize it.
- Though rare, it’s possible for tapeworm larvae to migrate to the brain, causing headaches and even seizures.
Enterobius vermicularis, also known as pinworm, or threadworm, can live in large numbers in the human intestine. This parasite is known for casuing anal itching, especially during sleep, and excessive scratching can lead to broken skin which may become infected.
Threadworms/pinworms are easily passed from person-to-person and frequently whole families or groups become infected.
These worms look like tiny white threads and live in the intestines. The female will travel to the anal opening to lay its eggs on the skin around the anus. It is this activity which causes the itching.
The eggs and the worms leave the body in feces. The eggs hatch when they are taken into the same or another person’s intestine.
The worms or their eggs can be passed from person-to-person directly, through the fecal-oral route from an infected person to one who is not infected. Or, indirectly, through contact with contaminated clothing, bedding, or food
Adult females range from 8-13 mm in length, and have long, pin-shaped posterior.
They make their home in the intestines, usually around the anus, and the anal itching which they cause actually assists the larvae’s spread via contact.
Not to worry. If infected, you could have thousands of these worms in your body.
Really though, it’s not a huge deal. (These suckers are usually pretty small.)
Usually no symptoms occur from the infection, and it’s also not considered to be deadly. Although, it could potentially be a contributing factor for the development of other diseases.
Pinworms, or threadworms, are thought to be the most common type of parasites in the United States. According to the CDC, nearly 12% of the US population is already infected.
Protozoa are defined as “a diverse group of unicellular eukaryotic organisms”, and protozoan parasites are one of these unicellular eukaryotic organisms.
Basically, they are microscopic parasites, not the kind you are gong to be able to see without a microscope. And therefor, the protozoan parasites most common to humans can be contracted in a number of ways.
- Direct Transmission of protozoa can occur through intimate contact, such as sex
- Fecal-oral transmission, usually through food and water or hand to mouth contact.
- Insect borne transmission can result from insects such as mosquitoes and flies, and even other parasites such as fleas and ticks. When they feed off of your skin, they can pass off these microscopic parasites to you.
- Predator prey transmission occurs when the parasitic infection has penetrated the tissue of the prey animal and is then eaten by the predator.
Since they are microscopic, protozoan parasites represent a whole other world. But, for now we are focused on the helminths, the parasitic worms.
What’s great is that we can do something about these worms, and for some of us, drastically improve the quality of our lives. We can decrease our parasitic load, and increase our natural ability to expel parasites and keep them at bay.
We can fight parasites by sticking to a healthy diet and incorporating more anti-parasite foods and herbs into our daily routine.