Amoebiasis: A Common Infection That You Probably Haven't Heard Of
03/27/2012 | 01:53 PM
Amoebiasis, which can also be spelled amebiasis, is an infection caused by the parasite Entamoeba histolytica (often abbreviated to E. histolytica). This amoeba lives in the digestive system, particularly in the colon. The growth of amoeba in the system can cause abdominal pains, diarrhea or constipation, or a combination of all three. Nine out of ten people infected with the parasite do not develop any symptoms. While the disease can be treated with antiprotozoals or other drugs, the infection can be fatal to babies and older people. Amoebiasis kills 70,000 persons worldwide annually, according to the WHO, so it is important to know the symptoms, treatment and how to prevent it.
The main culprit for amoebiasis is E. histolytica, a protozoa that can come from feces, which can be transmitted trough eating and drinking contaminated food and water. There are at least six species of Entamoeba that can infect the human gut but only E. histolytica causes disease. This amoeba is more common in tropical climates and developing countries, or places where there are unsanitary or crowded conditions.
- Abdominal pain – people with amoebiasis often feel abdominal pains, which can happen at anytime and can last for the duration of the illness. The abdominal pain increases as the amoeba grows. Lower abdominal pain is the most common type of pain, and it indicates that the infection is happening in the intestines. The second kind of abdominal pain happens in the upper part of the abdomen, and shows the infection is in the liver.
- Diarrhea – people with amoebiasis will sometimes have diarrhea. The feces or stool that will be passed by people with amoebiasis will smell different, usually fouler smelling. There may also be some blood or mucus in the feces.
- Constipation – After several days of diarrhea, a person with amoebiasis may become constipated for several days. Abdominal pains will continue as the person will often feel the need for a bowel movement, but will be unable, or will pass only mucus and blood. After several days of constipation, diarrhea may follow.
- Fever – people with amoebiasis normally have a fever.
- No appetite - People with amoebiasis may have less appetite and can often be nauseous and weak.
- Contaminated water – drinking water that is contaminated by feces or, which came from an unsanitary source can cause amoebiasis. Tap water can be contaminated by E. histolyca when there are leaks in the water pipes.
- Contaminated food – Food handled by unclean hands or hands that have been soiled by a bowel movement can be contaminated by E. histolytica. Flies and other insects can also be carriers of the parasite.
- Contaminated Soil - Vegetables planted in soil contaminated with feces can carry E. histolytica.
- Incorrect hand washing – Children are particularly susceptible to the parasite if they put their hands in their mouths after a bowel movement and before thoroughly washing with soap and water.
- Anal or anal-oral sex – Any sexual activity, e.g. rimming, anal sex, where fecal to mouth contamination can occur can lead to the spread of the amoebiasis parasite. To cut risk of infection, wash with soap and water or use a barrier such as a dental dam or household plastic wrap during oral-anal contact.
- Medication –amoebiasis is usually treated with medication, such as antiprotozoals (killing tiny one-celled animals) like Iodoquinol. Prescription medications are the first line of treatment for persons who are infected by intestinal amoebiasis.
- Surgery – if antibiotics are unsuccessful, surgery may be necessary. Surgery is only used in serious cases, e.g. if the amoebiasis has infected the liver.
- Herbal medications – there are some remedies and herbal medications that can be used for treating Amoebiasis. These treatments can be used for light to moderate cases of Amoebiasis. They should not be used if the parasite has spread to the liver.
- Turmeric: Tumeric stimulates the liver to produce bile, which can help the digestive problems caused by the parasite.
- Wash Hands Thoroughly. Wash the hands carefully with soap and water and thoroughly after using the toilet, changing a diaper, and before food preparation and eating. Make sure to wash your nails and cuticles too. Turn off the tap with a paper towel.
- Potty Sanitization. If a potty is used, wear gloves when you handle it, dispose of the contents into a toilet, then wash the potty with hot water and detergent and leave it to dry.
- Be careful where you eat. Make sure you are eating at a safe restaurant, especially if you are travelling to a tropical or less developing country. Do not order drinks with ice in them unless you are certain that the water is safe.
- Wash cooking utensils thoroughly. Sanitation in the kitchen is a key defense against this disease. By making sure that food is cooked well and any cooking equipment is thoroughly cleaned.
- Don’t Spread to Others. If you have the illness, don’t share flannels, clothes or towels, prepare or serve others food, and stay off work for the duration of the illness. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching others.
Amoebiasis is a parasitic infection that can be fatal, especially for babies and older people. Although more common in tropical and developing countries, it also occurs in the west. Amoebiasis can be treated with antiprotozoals or other drugs. Good sanitation practices are key to prevention