Understanding Parasite Infections In Children

Children of all ages are prone to parasitic infection. There are 2 different types of parasites that can impact children – external and internal parasites. External or eco parasites include lies, flies and mites that live on or around the host body. Whereas internal parasites live inside the intestinal tract of the host body and make it their shelter for growing and multiplying. Out of the two, the internal intestinal parasites are those that can impact a child’s health.

Since it is health-impacting, it would be best to understand infections caused by internal parasites more than the other. Though there are quite a few intestinal infections caused by parasites in children, the most common are giardiasis (caused by protozoa) and enterobiasis (caused by pinworm). Others include amebiasis, ascariasis, and taeniasis (caused by tapeworm).

Giardiasis

It is a waterborne disease. Popularly known as beaver fever, it is caused mainly by drinking contaminated or untreated lake/river water.

How the Infection Spreads

Children develop this condition by drinking or unknowingly swallowing contaminated water while swimming, playing in pools, lakes, and fountains. Apart from this, children living in areas with an inadequate water supply and poor sanitation facilities are also in the high-risk zone. It is necessary to know that giardiasis spreads through personal contact as well. Mingling with giardiasis infected kids or adults in play areas, daycares, and childcare centers can lead to infection.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms appear after 2 weeks of infection. Some children may not show any symptoms and become the carrier of the parasite and spread the disease.

While others may show the following symptoms:

● Diarrhea with watery or greasy stools
● Fatigue
● Abdominal pain or cramps
● Nausea
● Bloating
● Drastic weight loss

Diagnosis: The stool of the affected child is used for diagnosis. Repeated tests across several days can give accurate results.

Treatment: Physicians usually treat giardiasis with antibiotic medicines like Metronidazole which is effective in inhibiting the growth or kill the parasite. Experts from Microbe Formulas recommend the use of Mimosa Pudica seeds or anti-parasite herbs to keep these parasites at bay. These function as a natural detox for your intestine and flushes out all the unwelcomed guests in the gut. When ingested, this becomes sticky and slimy, which forces parasites hanging on the gut wall out through stools.

Enterobiasis

Enterobiasis is caused by pinworms. These are thread-like worms that live in the rectum. They come out in the night and lays eggs in nearby areas of the anus and cause itching. The movement of these worms causes a tingly feeling for kids making them restless and difficult to sleep. These eggs are lasting and can live for 2 weeks outside the body or on clothes, bed, etc.

Signs and symptoms

This condition is common among pre-school, kindergarten and primary school kids. Usually, there are no symptoms. But at night, they feel itchy around the anus thereby disturbing their sleep.

How the Infection Spreads

When the child scratches the infected area, the eggs easily get into their fingers and nails. Hence, pinworms get transmitted directly from one child to another in no time. A small contact like holding hands or sharing playthings can transmit these eggs. Kids that have the habit of biting their nails or sucking their fingers may unknowingly swallow these eggs. Kids are also susceptible to indirect transmission when the eggs get stuck to toys, clothes, and bed or toilet seats.

Diagnosis

Doctors recommend a tape test to check for pinworm eggs surrounding the anus. Cellophane tape is provided by the doctor that is pressed against the skin around the anus. The tape is then taken for microscopic examination to check the presence of pinworm eggs. It is always recommended to test in the morning before taking a bath or going to the bathroom as there are chances of the eggs getting washed away. Another way to find out the presence of pinworms is through close observation. Though they are only a centimeter long, adult worms (white) can be seen by our naked eyes around the anus, in diapers or underwear or the toilet after passing stools.

Treatment

Oral medication is prescribed by most of the physicians to treat pinworm infection. It takes about 2 weeks to get cured and itching persists for a week after medication. Treating only the infected person may not help as it gets spread easily to the other members of the family. Hence it is advised to examine the rest of the members in the family and take an action if diagnosed with the infection.

Preventive measures for Parasitic Infections

The most important way to prevent these parasitic infections is by practicing good hygiene in daily life. Not only children but also family members and the entire society should take part and adopt the following healthy habits.

● Ensure that kids wash hands thoroughly using soap and warm water. This should be done frequently. Especially after using the toilet, before eating, after a diaper change, and playing outside with peer groups.
● Avoid kids playing in or with untreated water.
● Toys can be washed with disinfectants routinely.
● Keep their beds clean and tidy.
● Change their underwear at least twice a day.
● Teach them not to swallow the water in a swimming pool, or lake or a river
● Ensure that they do not venture out barefoot.
● Since pinworm eggs are sensitive to light, keep the bedroom exposed to natural light during the day by drawing the curtains.

All the above tips can help you maintain a hygienic environment for children and reduce the risk of parasitic infections. Apart from the above, periodic mass drug administration can keep kids safe from such infections. It is essential that the entire family gets tested for parasitic infections even if a single member is diagnosed with it. This helps to stop the spread or treat it even before symptoms are seen. Following a hygienic routine at home is vital. Children learn from adults. Hence, practicing cleanliness, good sanitation and maintaining good hygiene habits can help them learn quickly. Educating kids on health hazards such as parasitic infections can also do the trick.

Thanks to Alex Witt

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