Did you realize that it’s possible to have tiny creatures living inside of you? Does that make your skin crawl? If it does, that’s OK! Most people don’t like the thought of being a home for invisible little creatures that can cause harm.
What are we talking about? Parasites! Parasites are tiny organisms that get their food and shelter from other organisms. Sometimes that other organism might be YOU. If so, the parasite calls you its host.
How can you get parasites? Many parasites are transmitted by food or water, dirt or waste and even person-to-person contact. Most parasites are tiny. They can range in size from single-celled organisms that are invisible to the naked eye to larger, multi-celled organisms that can be seen without a microscope.
Parasites rely on their hosts for food and shelter. Unfortunately, they also cause their hosts harm. For example, some common parasites are viruses. Viruses, like all parasites, rely on their hosts to live, grow and reproduce.
In the process, they also often make their hosts sick. Fortunately, it’s rare for parasites to kill their hosts. They can, however, causes diseases, malnutrition and many other types of illnesses.
Children can often transmit parasites quite easily between themselves and other children. Whether they’re in school or daycare, children seem to have a knack for sharing things, including cold germs and parasites.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some of the most common parasites in children include giardia, pinworms and head lice. Luckily, most parasites can be easily treated with modern medicines. Once parasites are identified, they can be treated and stopped in their tracks before they’re passed along to others.
Giardia is a tiny organism called a protozoa that lives in the intestines of humans and animals. It’s often transferred via contaminated water. Giardia infections often lead to painful stomach cramping that can last up to six weeks.
Pinworms are just what they sound like: tiny, thin, white worms that can grow to be up to a quarter-inch long. They are often transferred via dirt or waste. As many as a third of all children around the world may have pinworms at one time or another. Although they can cause a variety of illnesses, they can be killed easily with medication.
Head lice are perhaps the parasite children are most familiar with. These tiny insects live in the hair and feed on blood taken from the scalp. Lice spread easily between children, because the insects have claws that help them crawl and cling firmly to hair, clothing and combs. Lice can cause irritation and infections, but they can be treated with special shampoos.
Giardia, pinworms and head lice are not the only parasites that affect humans. There are many more, including roundworms and tapeworms. How can you avoid parasites? Take care of yourself, stay clean and wash your hands frequently!