While many feel that parasitic infection is a problem relegated to third-world countries where extreme poverty and unsanitary conditions are prevalent, a new statement from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that the Unites States is not immune from the little bugs. The agency has identified five diseases which are affecting people in the U.S. The outcomes of these diseases range from infertility to death. Some may even be affecting the way people think and behave.
The five key parasites and the diseases they cause are:
- Trypanosoma cruzi – Chagas disease
- Toxocara – Toxocariasis
- Toxoplasma gondii – Toxoplasmosis
- Trichomonas – Trichomoniasis
- Taenia solium – Cysticercosis (tapeworm)
Many of these parasites are entering the U.S. due to increased global mobility. Trypanosoma cruzi was once only found in Latin America but now it has been found as far north as parts of Canada due to plane travel and increased immigration. The most common forms of transmission include blood transfusions, tainted organ donations, and consumption of food tainted by triatomine bugs.
The CDC estimates that up to 14 percent of U.S. citizens have been exposed to Toxocara parasites. However, only 70 people have been seriously affected by the parasite. Those 70 unfortunates have been blinded by the toxocariasis.
Toxoplasmosis claims 60 million chronic sufferers. Pregnant women should be particularly careful to avoid Toxoplasma gondii, a microbe which is found in cat feces. Cat fanciers need to be careful to wash their hands after cleaning their feline friend’s litter box. Infections are known to cause severe birth defects when mothers are infected. Some scientists believe that the parasite is capable of changing our perception of scents, our trust in others, and that it can even cause schizophrenia.
Studies are showing that when a rat is affected by toxoplasmosis that it may be attracted to cats, making them willing prey for the feline predator. That a microscopic organism can affect human behavior in a similar way is an idea which many are resistant to, yet humans are already aware that an overgrowth of yeast in the gut can lead people to crave sugar and to become irritable when their ″blood sugar″ becomes low.
Beef has also been found to contain Toxoplasma gondii and some researchers claim that ground beef from large meat processing plants has a very high chance of parasitic infection. The USDA recommends cooking all beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Poultry should be cooked to 165.
Trichomonas associated ailment trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) which more often affects men. Men can be carriers of the parasite, however, they often do not experience symptoms. Women experience a frothy, greenish-yellow discharge, itching, and discomfort during intercourse, among other symptoms. The disease is fully treatable.
Taenia solium is more commonly known as a tapeworm. Tapeworms infect humans through undercooked pork and can survive for up to 25 years inside the human intestine. Though people only usually have one at a time, cases have been found where people have multiple parasites at once.
The CDC continues to study outbreaks of parasites, both food-borne and otherwise, as they impact citizens of the United States and elsewhere. Though rates of infection are lower here than in many other countries, people are warned to be aware of the danger parasites pose and to take prudent precaution when necessary.
By Hobie Anthony