Parasitic Infections


Parasites are organisms that live in (or on) another organism, called the host. The parasites can be microscopic or large enough to see with the naked eye, and they survive by feeding from the host. They can also spread parasitic infections, which can lead to sepsis.

Sometimes incorrectly called blood poisoning, sepsis is the body’s often deadly response to infection. Sepsis kills and disables millions and requires early suspicion and rapid treatment for survival.

Sepsis is and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, such as pneumonia, influenza, or urinary tract infections. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die. Many who do survive are left with life-changing effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain and fatigue, organ dysfunction (organs don’t work properly) and/or amputations.

Examples of parasitic infections

Some people think of parasitic infections, like malaria, as occurring only in developing countries or in tropical areas, but parasitic infections exist in North America as well. The most common ones found in North America include Giardia infections (through contaminated water) and toxoplasmosis (spread by cats).

Others include:

  • E.vermicularis, or pinworm
  • Trypanosoma cruzi, the cause of Chagas disease.
  • Echinococcosis, another tapeworm, passed through dogs and sheep
  • Cysticercosis, or tapeworm.
  • Toxocariasis, or roundworm.
  • Trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted infection.
  • Amebiasis

How are parasitic infections diagnosed and treated?

The treatment for parasitic infections depends on the type of infection and how far the infection has progressed. Blood tests can show the presence of parasites such as those that cause Chagas disease and samples of stool (from bowel movements) can show the presence of parasites that infect the intestines.

Giardia infections: The infection usually clears up on its own within a few weeks. If the infection is severe or does not clear up, your doctor may prescribe a medication like metronidazole (Flagyl), tinidazole (Tindamax) or nitazoxanide (Alinia).

Chagas disease: Antiparasitic medications benznidazole and nifurtimox will kill the parasites, but other treatments to manage the complications like heart irregularities may be needed.

Tapeworm: The most commonly used medications to kill tapeworms are praziquantel (Biltricide), albendazole (Albenza), and nitazoxanide (Alinia). However, if the infection has progressed and become more invasive, you may need treatment with anti-inflammatory medications, anti-seizure medications, a shunt to drain fluid from your brain, or surgery to remove cysts caused by the tapeworm.

Roundworm: There are several types of roundworm so treatment varies according to the infection. The most commonly used medications for roundworm include medendazole (Vermox), albdendazole (Albenza) and ivermectin (Stromectol). Surgery could be required to remove the worm if there is a bowel obstruction.

Media Contact:

Allison Grey
Journal Manager
Journal of Infectious Diseases and Diagnosis