Apr. 302024

Most people are not fond of parasites or even talking about them. We have already spent some time in this column on ticks, but the world is filled with organisms that we need to protect ourselves from. The good news is that in Connecticut we do not have a lot of parasites to worry about. But many of the readers of Tribuna spend time in more tropical areas where the risks are greater.

We can pick up some parasites from our friends! Lice live on our scalp and scabies burrow into our skin. Close contact with people or their clothing can lead to these uncomfortable infestations. We can also get a lot of infections from pets. Good handwashing after picking up after our pets can help prevent infections. Cats can spread toxoplasmosis, which causes birth defects. Pregnant mothers need to be very vigilant around cats. Cats also transmit roundworms by leaving eggs in soil. If your children play in a sandbox, make sure that the sandbox is covered when not in use so outdoor cats do not use it as a litter box. In general, it is best for children to avoid going barefoot outside where dogs or cats may have pooped.

In tropical areas parasites may show up in water sources, juice made in unsanitary conditions, and from insect bites. One example, the “kissing bug,” can leave organisms after biting. They come out at night and can cause Chagas Disease, which may lead to fatal heart disease. These bugs hide in cracks in the walls. Modern construction that is in good condition is a preventative.

Another serious infection, neurocysticercosis, is a major cause of seizures in children who have emigrated. Worldwide it is the most common cause of seizures in children. Humans become infected after consuming undercooked food, particularly pork, or water contaminated with tapeworm eggs, or through poor hygiene practices. Medication is usually curative.

Whether you are living in Connecticut or visiting more tropical areas, you and your children should be in the habit of washing their hands frequently, especially before eating and after playing with pets or going to the bathroom. If your child has a persistent illness, particularly one with stomach or intestinal symptoms, be sure to tell your pediatrician if your family has been traveling or if your household has animals. There are many more parasitic illnesses we have not mentioned, but a careful history will usually point your doctor in the right direction.

Meet the Author: Dr. Robert Golenbock
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