Weird Nature

Gastrointestinal Parasites Are On The Rise - And You'll Never Guess Where They're Hiding  

Beth Elias
10 items

In a world where we can clone dogs and edit gene sequences, why are a rapidly increasing number of of people getting gastrointestinal infections? Though many parasitic infections are a result of unsanitary living conditions or contaminated water (things often associated with underdeveloped countries) plenty of people around the world can and do get parasites - including in the USA. Everything from eating undercooked meat or fish to walking on the beach during your highly anticipated vacation could leave you with a nasty worm living in your gut. 

Regardless of the cause, the fact is that rates of gastrointestinal parasites are increasing. One of the most common and virulent, giardia, has only recently become fully understood by the medical community. Though mankind and animals alike have dealt with parasitic infections since time eternal, the worms are still, well, worming their way into our daily lives in some rather unexpected ways.

**Warning: Graphic images to follow.

You Can Get Parasites From Butt Stuff
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Photo: Alex501/Flickr Creative Commons

first-person account from Jasper Sparrow, a gay man living in New York, spells it out pretty clearly: "I've contracted my third gastrointestinal parasite from rimming - and I can't be the only gay man suffering." 

After experiencing severe diarrhea, Sparrow's doctor sent him for a stool sample that ended up showing that he'd contracted giardia. And giardia, as it turns out, can be transmitted by fecal matter, meaning that you can get giardia from anal-oral contact. After a round of antibiotics and months of probiotics, Sparrow was healthy again. But then his boyfriend got giardia. Then they both got entamoeba histolytica, another parasite similar to giardia. And then the giardia was back again.

No healthcare providers seemed to know what was wrong at first, and no one said they were testing for parasites regularly. Nor did any healthcare providers say that they were educating or warning the gay men they served. No one thinks about parasites when they educate about sexual activity, but it seems like that needs to change - regardless of sexual orientation or gender, you might just contract a gastrointestinal parasite if you're doing butt stuff. 

Can You Really Get Tapeworms From Sushi?
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Photo: Harald Groven/Flickr Creative Commons

Though you definitely can get tapeworms from sushi, it's pretty uncommon - but it's still gross when it happens. One man, who was apparently eating sushi nearly every day, ended up with a tapeworm in his digestive tract that was 1.5 meters long. It turns out that this particular tapeworm, which happened to be a fish tapeworm, had a lifespan of up to 20 years. Even though tapeworms can cause diarrhea and severe stomach pains, they're relatively easy to treat with antibiotics.

Humans can contract tapeworms through a variety of sources, including raw or undercooked fish, though sushi shouldn't present a huge risk. The way that it's prepared in thin slices means that a chef would likely see the parasites. If you're really concerned, though, you can freeze your sushi first to make sure there aren't any parasites or larvae hiding out.

Some People Are Willingly Infecting Themselves With Parasites
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Photo: Defence Images/Flickr Creative Commons

For those frustrated by Celiac disease, some "helpful" parasites are being offered up as a possible new solution, leading some who suffer from gluten intolerance to actually infect themselves with certain parasites. However, one writer with Celiac infected himself with hookworms, and while his symptoms got better for a little while, they ultimately returned. And, of course, he still had hookworms.

If you happen to be Celiac, please note that any "evidence" that claims parasites can help is not medically sound, and has not been proven. This whole idea originated with a gastroenterologist who ultimately believed that it wasn't the presence of parasites that caused problems for people, but their absence. Parasites have long been seen as a possible solution to autoimmune diseases, though no real progress has been made in this area - it's currently illegal in the United States to use parasites to cure disease or to sell them for that reason.

Ascaris Is The Most Common Worm In Humans - And You Don't Want To See It
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Photo: CDC/Flickr Creative Commons

Ascaris parasites are found living in a staggering number of people - upwards of 1.2 billion worldwide. And because they are part of a branch of parasites known as soil-transmitted helminths (STH), they are perfectly happy taking up residence in your body or in the soil.

The problem? Since the parasite most often likes to reside inside a person's intestines, if an infected individual's feces find their way into some dirt, the worms in said feces can then wiggle into the soil and become fertilizer. Then, if someone even touches this infected dirt, they risk contracting the parasite. Additionally, this fertilized soil can end up alongside your favorite fruits and vegetables which, if unwashed, can serve as the perfect vessel to transport the ascaris parasite to its new home - your stomach. 

Though it's typically not serious and can be easily treated, ascaris can block the intestines if the infection isn't dealt with promptly.