Life-threatening parasite that traverses barefoot is in the United States

The headlines on a parasite called Strongyloides in the United States are accurate. The parasite isn’t fatal to most people – and many people don’t even have symptoms.

The Guardian recently published a story with the title, “Deadly Parasite That Burrows Into The Body Through Barefoot Could Multiply In This American Community.” The story has been compiled by several American publishers, including iHeartRadio.

Viewers, including Jane L., reached out to CHECK to ask if the parasite really exists and is in the United States.

THE QUESTION

Is a potentially fatal parasite that enters people through bare feet in the United States?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

Yes, a parasite that enters people through bare feet called Strongyloides is found in the United States. Most people infected with the parasite have no symptoms, but the infection can be fatal for others, mainly people with weakened immune systems.

WHAT WE FOUND

Strongyloides stercoralis is a parasitic worm transmitted by soil, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Dr Rojelio Mejia, an infectious disease physician and researcher at Baylor College of Medicine, says the parasite is found worldwide, primarily in countries with tropical climates and poor sanitation systems. In the United States, Mejia says the parasite has been found in the Appalachians, as well as in Alabama, and as a study he is the author of shows in Texas.

Strongyloides larvae, which are microscopic, often enter the feet of humans walking on soil contaminated with sewage or feces. It then travels through different parts of the body.

“It enters the bloodstream, travels to the lungs,” Mejia explained. “In the lungs, it will go through a few changes and go up your windpipe, and you swallow it down your esophagus into your stomach. And then when it gets to the small intestine and the intestinal system, it starts to replicate or give birth.

After breeding, most larvae are excreted in the feces, according to the CDC. The larvae can make their way to the soil through sewage, which is why the parasite is often found in depleted areas. From there, the larvae can penetrate the skin of another human and the cycle continues.

But not all the larvae leave the body. Dr. Julie Jacobson, a family physician who is also president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, says that a unique quality of Strongyloides is that it can re-infect humans once it is inside the body. body.

“So people can become more heavily infected,” Jacobson said. “You can get infected and keep this infection for a very long time because it exists and can continue its life cycle in the human body and reproduce itself, contaminating both the environment but also living in the human host and prolonging life. many lives. cycles within the human host.

According to the United States National Library of Medicine, most people have no symptoms when infected with Strongyloides, a disease known as strongyloidiasis. People who have symptoms usually experience discomfort such as abdominal pain, cough, diarrhea, or a rash.

But the disease can be fatal, especially for people with weakened immune systems.

“At worst is when people are treated with a steroid or become immunocompromised for some reason and then the parasite gets out of hand and can then really take over the body and make people extremely sick and even die,” said Jacobson. .

People with strongyloidiasis symptoms are advised to contact their doctor. A blood test is often used to determine if a person is infected, according to the CDC. Mejia noted that in many countries where the parasite is most prevalent, access to doctors is limited, so many people around the world are unaware that they are infected.

Mejia and Jacobson said people diagnosed with strongyloidiasis are usually treated with antiparasitic drugs like ivermectin – the drug some people have taken in an attempt to treat COVID-19 despite US health agencies warn of this.

“There have been fewer supplies for the people who really need them for strongyloidiasis,” Mejia said.

An article published on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website describes strongyloidiasis as “one of the most neglected tropical diseases”.

“These are issues that can be solved,” Jacobson said. “So we don’t need to be afraid of them. We just need to tackle it. And that’s by increasing awareness and making sure that tests are available, and the treatment is available, and that we are addressing the underlying things that may be causing this environmental exposure, where it can. have bad septic tanks and poverty. “

At the individual level, the CDC says people can reduce their risk of infection by wearing shoes when walking on the ground and avoiding contact with sewage and fecal matter.

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