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What are the Common Symptoms of Parasites in Humans?

By Michael Smathers
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The presence of parasites in humans causes numerous health problems, some of which are life-threatening if left untreated. Parasites typically enter the body through food or water that is ingested. When in the digestive tract, the symptoms of parasites in humans can include fatigue, irregular or excessive bowel movements, weight loss, nausea and cramps. Other types of parasites can reside in the blood and skin and cause itching, muscle and joint pains or anemia. These symptoms have many potential other causes, so parasites can be difficult to spot without an X-ray exam.

The larger parasites such as roundworms and tapeworms attach themselves to the intestinal wall and siphon nutrients that would otherwise travel through the body. In severe cases, this leads to overall malnutrition and weight loss. In the large intestine, larger worms can clog the interior of the intestine and prevent regular bowel movements. They also cause cramps and gas. Eating improperly cooked meat makes a worm infection more likely.

The symptoms of parasites in humans can also be confused for the flu. Blood parasites cause flu-like symptoms at early onset: fever, chills, vomiting and diarrhea. Severe infection causes digestive problems and difficulty swallowing, as well as anemia. Typically, blood parasites spread when an infected insect such as a mosquito bites a human and leaves feces inside the bite. Severe inflammation, swelling or pain around the bite area indicates a possible parasite infection.

Fungal parasites rely on moisture to thrive. They can live and breed best in areas that are exposed to a large quantity of sweat or other moisture; the armpits, groin, feet and inner thighs are main problem areas. Consistently itchy, dry and peeling skin or flaking dead skin are also symptoms of parasites in humans. Ringworm, another common fungal parasite, causes a circular rash on the skin at the area of infection.

Taking preventive measures can stem the symptoms of parasites in humans and stop parasite infection altogether. Avoiding parasites requires observation of sanitary food preparation, and having pets wormed regularly can also prevent worms. Using insect repellent and covering skin removes an access method for blood parasites via mosquitoes. Removing excess moisture from the skin stops the growth of fungi such as athlete's foot. Anyone who believes that he or she has a parasite infection based on known symptoms should visit a physician as soon as possible to have a full exam performed, because an untreated parasite infection could be lethal.

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Discussion Comments

By SarahGen — On Apr 04, 2013

@ankara-- Bloating, especially after eating and diarrhea are symptoms of intestinal parasites that show up immediately. At least that was the case with me. I think when tapeworms and roundworms start feeding, they cause gas and bloating in the intestines.

I've also heard that some people can feel them move but I never experienced that. That would be scary. I imagine it would only happen if the worms have had the opportunity to grow large.

By bluedolphin — On Apr 03, 2013

As far as I understand, symptoms like weight loss take time to show up when there are intestinal parasites. Are there any symptoms that appear immediately after a parasite infection?

By ZipLine — On Apr 02, 2013

I live in Wyoming and it's very dry here. So when I went to visit relatives in Washington last summer, which is a very humid state, I started experiencing issues with my skin and scalp. My skin started getting very oily and breaking out in pimples. My scalp became very oily, itchy and flaky. My scalp also developed a weird odor that would appear just a few hours after washing it.

After several weeks of these symptoms, I went to see a doctor. She said that it sounds like a fungal infection on my skin and scalp. Apparently, humid climate is a great environment for fungal parasites to grow. The doctor prescribed an anti-fungal shampoo and ointment for me.

When I returned to Wyoming, the infection disappeared on its own and I never had these symptoms again.

By umbra21 — On Apr 02, 2013

One of the worst parasites of our time is the protozoa that causes malaria. I guess it gets in through mosquitoes carrying it from host to host.

I lived overseas in a country that has malaria for a while and it really is the worst. Even though it's not always deadly (although, it often can be for small children and people who are already sick) it completely drains you of the ability to go about your life, and it does this every month.

Of all the symptoms of a parasite like this, that's a pretty bad one, especially for a developing country. It basically puts a huge chunk of the work force out of action, and of course, the mosquitoes are always active around the time that the rains come, when people need to work to tend the fields.

I can really get behind those organizations that are trying to eliminate this disease.

By Fa5t3r — On Apr 02, 2013

@pastanaga - Another one that gets in through the skin is the parasite that causes swimmer's rash.

It's not a big deal though, because they actually aren't proper skin parasites in humans and so, even though they try to get in, they die quickly once they do.

They only cause a rash in some people because of an allergic reaction, not because they themselves are doing any damage.

By pastanaga — On Apr 01, 2013

Parasites don't always enter through your mouth. There are types that will enter through your skin as well. Hookworms, for example, usually get in through the feet. They wait in areas that have fecal contamination (I think that's where their eggs get out in the first place) and latch onto to feet and burrow into the skin to get into your blood stream.

These parasites don't cause symptoms in humans very often, but they can tend to make people anemic, which is why they are so dangerous in places like Africa, where children are already in bad health. They can also eventually damage the intestines I think.

That's why, if you are visiting a country with this kind of infection, you should always wear shoes.

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