Do you know what food-borne parasites are? If not, you’re not alone. Many people have never heard of them before. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous. In fact, food-borne parasites can be quite harmful to your health. From causing digestive issues to spreading certain diseases, food-borne parasites can cause some serious damage. So in order to help keep you safe, this article will look at some of the most common food-borne parasites and their associated risks.
What Defines A Food-Borne Parasite?
A food-borne parasite is an organism that causes harm to another organism through the consumption of food or drinking water. While parasites can be found in many different foods, they are most commonly found in raw and undercooked meat and fish. Food-borne parasites are able to survive in food that has been stored, cooked, and processed improperly, making them a common contaminant in most of what you consume.
As such, thoroughly cooking food to high temperatures, washing hands frequently while handling prepared foods, and not buying any contaminated or expired food products are all essential practices when it comes to avoiding the potentially harmful effects of food-borne parasites.
The Most Common Food-Borne Parasites
Many people assume that all parasites are the same, but that is simply not true. There are actually several different types of food-borne parasites, each with its own unique risks and symptoms associated with them. Here are some of the most common:
Taenia solium, most commonly known as the pork tapeworm, is a parasitic intestinal infection that affects humans and animals. Transmission of this organism can occur through the ingestion of raw or undercooked pork products harboring encysted larvae from pigs infected with Taenia solium. If left untreated, the pork tapeworm can cause serious physical health issues, including seizures, neuropathy, and hydatid cyst formation in organs.
While medical treatment involving chemotherapy may be effective in combating Taenia solium infections in adults, identifying an active infection can also prove quite difficult, and proper education concerning safe food preparation techniques must be widely disseminated to members of both human and animal populations to effectively prevent transmission.
Echinococcus granulosus, more commonly known as the “Hydatid Tapeworm”, is a parasitic tapeworm that is primarily found in sheep but can also infect humans. It’s a cestode, a type of flatworm that uses other organisms for nutrition and to gestate its eggs. Transmission from animals to humans occurs through contact with contaminated soil, food, or water that has come into contact with infected animal feces.
In humans, the tapeworm typically takes up residence in the liver or lungs, where each segment carrying hundreds of eggs creates cysts which can create major health issues. Treatment involves medications such as Albendazole and Mebendazole, with additional procedures necessary if any cysts are particularly large or close to internal organs such as the heart or brain.
Toxoplasma gondii is an intracellular parasite found throughout the world. It can infect any warm-blooded animal, yet it primarily lives in domestic cats, which are the definitive host of the organism. It has been suggested that this parasite may have a negative effect on human behavior, as research has shown it can alter the production of some neurotransmitters and hormones.
While much more research needs to be done to understand the full implications of infection by this organism, its potential impacts cannot be disregarded, as its wide-ranging effects raise numerous questions about the susceptibility to influences beyond control.
Opisthorchiidae is a family of parasitic flatworms. These flatworms infect a variety of animals, but more research has been done on the effects of Opisthorchiidae on the human body due to its prevalence in many countries around the world. Three species, in particular, are most commonly seen, and their effects can range from minor inflammation to severe complications like biliary cirrhosis or cancer.
Typically, these parasites enter the body through the ingestion of freshwater fish or contact with contaminated water sources where these organisms may thrive. Treatment usually involves medications such as praziquantel and albendazole. However, further research is necessary to better understand the full implications of this organism in humans.
Entamoeba histolytica is an amoeba that can cause serious issues in humans if ingested. It is a parasite that can lead to diseases such as invasive amebiasis, which can ultimately be fatal if not treated properly. This organism is segmented into cysts and trophozoites, which are dispersed from infected individuals through the fecal-oral route. These infectious agents can be spread through this route to food, water, and soil sources.
These parasites have the potential to enter the host and survive within their gastrointestinal tract for various time periods. Furthermore, symptoms of infection include abdominal discomfort or pain and diarrhea or constipation caused due to invasion of Entamoeba histolytica into the intestinal walls or other parts of the body, such as the liver, brain, and lungs.
Trichinella spiralis is another parasitic roundworm that can cause a severe infection in humans. This zoonotic pathogen is usually ingested by eating undercooked or uncooked pork, wild boar, and other related carnivorous animals that are the definitive hosts of this organism. The larvae present in these raw or inadequately cooked meats enter the human digestive tract and develop into adults, leading to muscle tissue invasion and trichinosis.
Once inside the body, T. spiralis encases itself within a cyst in muscle cells, thus preventing its destruction by stomach acids. Diagnosis is typically achieved by analyzing a patient’s blood for antibodies and observing serological changes. Treatment includes antibiotics such as mebendazole, albendazole, and ivermectin; however, these medications cannot kill the adult form of Trichinella spiralis present in the muscular system, so surgical removal is sometimes necessary for more severe cases.
Trypanosoma cruzi is a dangerous flagellated protozoan parasite that infects the bloodstream of humans, as well as other mammals like dogs, cats, and horses. The T. cruzi infection is known as Chagas disease, which is named after Carlos Chagas – the Brazilian doctor who first studied it in 1909. Sadly, this parasitic ailment affects roughly 8-10 million people, mostly within South America. The effects of Chagas disease can range from mild heart inflammation to serious and potentially fatal cardiac conditions.
The transmission of this pathogen is usually through contaminated fruit juice, via the fecal-oral route, or through direct contact with an infected vector such as a triatomine bug. Treatment is typically administered using benznidazole and nifurtimox drugs; however, they can be expensive and hard to come by in certain parts of the world.
Be Aware Of The Dangers Of Food-Borne Parasites!
Having an understanding of some of these common food-borne parasites is essential in order to prevent potential illnesses and protect one’s health. As with any disease, early diagnosis and proper treatment can be the difference between life and death. It is essential to take the necessary precautions when handling and preparing food, as well as be aware of potential sources of contamination that could contribute to such infections. Following these guidelines can help reduce the risk of contracting a parasitic infection.