Parasites in stool can be an unsettling sight, but understanding their origins and effects is crucial for maintaining good health. These tiny organisms can find their way into the gastrointestinal tract and cause a variety of illnesses, ranging from mild discomfort to severe complications.
For example, giardiasis is a diarrheal disease caused by the microscopic parasite Giardia duodenalis, which lives in the intestines and is passed through stool 1. Another example is Strongyloides, a parasitic disease caused by nematodes (roundworms) that enters the body through exposed skin, like bare feet, and is more common in tropical or subtropical climates 2.
Identifying parasites in stool can help prevent the spread of these organisms and aid in proper treatment. This process typically involves a fecal (stool) exam called an ova and parasite test (O&P) that detects the presence of eggs or the parasite itself 3.
Overview of Parasite in Stool
Common Intestinal Parasites
Intestinal parasites can cause discomfort and health issues in humans. Some of the most common ones include:
- Protozoa: microscopic single-celled organisms like Entamoeba histolytica
- Helminths: worm-like parasites such as hookworms and roundworms
- Ectoparasites: external parasites like ticks and fleas
These parasites are more prevalent in tropical regions and developing countries but can also affect people in the United States.
Symptoms and Signs
Infection with intestinal parasites can lead to various symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Gas and bloating
- Weight loss
Some people may not show symptoms at all, making it crucial to undergo proper testing.
Causes and Risk Factors
Intestinal parasites can be contracted through:
- Contaminated food: consuming undercooked meat or unwashed fruits and vegetables
- Contaminated water: drinking unclean water or swimming in contaminated bodies of water
- Poor sanitation: living in areas with inadequate waste disposal systems
- Travel: visiting tropical regions or developing countries
Practicing good hygiene and ensuring proper sanitation can help reduce the risk of contracting intestinal parasites.
Identifying Parasites in Stool
Stool examination is a common method used by doctors to identify parasites in fecal matter. Some of the entities commonly found in stool include worms, mucus, and organisms causing infections such as ascariasis, pinworms, giardia, and toxoplasmosis. For example, the CDC mentions the diagnosis of Trichomoniasis by detecting trophozoites through a microscopic examination of stool.
Pros of Stool Examination:
- Direct observation
Cons of Stool Examination:
- Sensitivity varies
- Multiple samples may be required for accuracy
Stool tests are another option for detecting parasites in stool. These tests can be more sensitive and specific compared to direct stool examination. For instance, stool antigen testing is preferred for identifying Giardia infections.
Pros of Stool Tests:
- Higher sensitivity
- Can identify specific parasites
Cons of Stool Tests:
- May require additional laboratory processing
- Can be more expensive
Here is a comparison table of the two methods:
|Stool Examination||Varies||Moderate to High||Low||Non-invasive|
In summary, identifying parasites in stool can be done through stool examination or stool testing. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages, with stool tests providing generally higher sensitivity and specificity compared to direct examination.
Symptoms of Parasite Infection
- Abdominal pain
- Mucus in stool
Parasites in the intestine can cause various digestive symptoms. For example, giardiasis, a diarrheal disease caused by the microscopic parasite Giardia duodenalis, can lead to nausea, bloating, and abdominal pain. Another common symptom is diarrhea, which is often accompanied by gas and foul-smelling, greasy stools that tend to float.
- Weight loss
Apart from digestive issues, parasites can also cause systemic symptoms, impacting overall health and wellbeing. People infected with parasites can experience weight loss due to malabsorption of nutrients. Fatigue is another common symptom, with the severity typically increasing with the number of loose stools per day. Dehydration may also occur, as a result of fluid loss from diarrhea.
- Anal itching
In some cases, parasitic infections can manifest on the skin, causing irritation or rashes. For instance, people with strongyloidiasis, caused by the roundworm Strongyloides, may experience itchy skin, hives, and anal itching.
Comparison of Symptoms
Treatment and Medication
Your doctor may prescribe specific medications depending on the type of parasite in your stool:
- Antibiotics: Common for treating bacterial infections and some parasitic infections such as Giardia duodenalis.
- Praziquantel: Often used to treat tapeworm infections.
- Albendazole, Mebendazole, or Ivermectin: Common treatments for helminthic infections like ascarisis, hookworms, and Strongyloides.
It is crucial to follow the exact dosage and duration as directed by your healthcare professional for optimal results and to avoid potential side effects.
Some general over-the-counter (OTC) treatments may help manage parasitic symptoms. Examples of OTC options include:
- Anti-diarrheal medications
- Pain relievers to ease discomfort
It is essential to consult your doctor before taking any OTC medication to ensure it’s suitable and won’t interfere with prescribed medications.
Precautions and Warnings
When undergoing treatment for parasites in the stool, keep in mind the following precautions:
- Ensure proper food and water hygiene to prevent reinfection or worsening symptoms.
- Stay hydrated to compensate for fluid loss due to diarrhea associated with giardiasis.
- Do not self-diagnose based on graphic pictures of parasites in stools, as certain medical professionals need to confirm an accurate diagnosis.
- Remember that some medications can cause side effects in your digestive tract or your urine, so consult your doctor if you have concerns.
- Get proper rest and support your immune system throughout treatment.
- Maintain regular follow-up appointments with your doctor to track your progress and adjust treatment if needed.
By staying vigilant and following your prescribed treatment plan, you can successfully treat and prevent recurrent parasitic infections in your stool.
Prevention and Risk Reduction
- Wash hands frequently, especially after using the toilet and before handling food
- Avoid contact with contaminated soil, common in poor sanitation areas
Food and Water Safety
- Cook meat thoroughly to avoid tapeworm infection
- Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly
- Drink bottled water or treat tap water through boiling or filtration
In developing countries and subtropical regions, practice the following:
- Use insect repellent to prevent lice infestation
- Be cautious about consuming street food
|Prevention Measure||Developed Countries||Developing & Subtropical Countries|
|Avoiding contaminated soil||✓||✓|
|Cooking meat thoroughly||✓||✓|
|Washing fruits & vegetables||✓||✓|
|Drinking bottled/treated water||✓||✓|
|Using insect repellent||✓|
|Avoiding street food||✓|
Examples of signs and symptoms:
- Stomach cramps
Remember to maintain good hygiene, ensure food and water safety, and take precautions when traveling to reduce the risk of parasitic infections.
Complications and Special Populations
Health Complications from Parasites
Parasitic infections can lead to various health complications. Some common issues include:
- Malnutrition: Parasites can consume essential nutrients, depriving the host of proper nourishment.
- Vomiting and dehydration: Some parasites can irritate the digestive system, causing vomiting and frequent diarrhea, leading to dehydration.
For example, the parasite Giardia can cause these symptoms, along with stomach cramps and weight loss. In extreme cases, parasites can also affect other organs, like when Schistosomiasis leads to blood in the stool or urine, enlarged liver, and problems passing urine.
Parasite Infections in Children
Children are more susceptible to parasitic infections due to their developing immune systems and increased exposure to contaminated sources. An intestinal worm infection may cause symptoms such as:
- Insomnia: Sleep disruption due to discomfort and pain.
- Irritability: Mood changes and increased frustration.
- Teeth grinding: A nervous habit that can occur during sleep.
Swallowing the microscopic eggs of parasitic worms, like pinworms, can infect children, often due to unsanitary conditions or poor hygiene practices.
Parasites and Pregnancy
Parasitic infections during pregnancy can pose risks to both the mother and the unborn child. Common issues include:
- Increased risk of complications: Some parasites can lead to anemia, premature birth, or low birth weight.
- Transmission to the unborn child: Certain parasitic infections, like Toxoplasmosis, can be passed from mother to child, potentially causing severe health issues in the newborn.
|Parasite||Risk to Mother||Risk to Unborn Child|
|Giardia||Diarrhea, dehydration||Possibility of transmission (rare)|
|Toxoplasma gondii||Flu-like symptoms, swollen lymph nodes||Birth defects, blindness, or intellectual disabilities|
It is crucial for pregnant women to take precautions to avoid parasitic infections and seek medical attention if they suspect an infection.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Possible Worm in Stool Sample
Subject: Parasite in stool
Location: USA, Egypt, Germany
March 1, 2016 12:50 pm
Hello! I’m hoping you can help me and see what this parasite is. It is white when exposed to air and dries. It is hard, almost like a twig, sometimes with a whip tail on the back and almost looks segmented but doesn’t appear to be the same as a tapeworm. Some sections of it splinters off, possibly male and female sexual productive pieces within the same worm. I’m not sure. It was found in human feces by the dozens. It can be roughly half inch long or longer. It does seem to break apart somewhat easily. I lived in Egypt for a year coming back about 7 months ago to the USA. It could have been caught at either location. Also, spent a night in Germany while traveling between. Thank you so much!
We do not have the necessary credentials to diagnose human parasites nor diseases, and we would urge you to see a professional for a diagnosis. We cannot tell is this is an organism or if it is roughage.
Letter 2 – Stool Sample Inquiry
Subject: unknown stool parasite
September 1, 2016 11:04 am
I am producing what may be (by usage of only hand lens) are Charcot-Leyden crystals, my reservation is that I believe I remember them much more uniform in shape. If I remember from my education in prehistoric times and if they are in the stool – they are associated with eosinophil breakdown in feces as a consequence of parasitic disease.
They appear very dark rust colored when cleaned up. I remember when stained in the lab with trichrome (sp? its been a long time) fecal preparation they turned bright red.
Literally hundreds are evacuating from me – and because of their shape are quite painful. Please assist
Signature: E Miller
Dear E Miller,
We regret to inform you that we do not have the necessary qualifications to identify your findings, and we would urge you to see a specialist in internal parasites or a gastrointestinal specialist.