Traveling Can Spread Parasitic Worms to New Areas
Traveling Can Spread Parasitic Worms to New Areas
Everyone travels. Come to think of it; we do it all the time! We don’t have to fly to another country to say we’ve traveled. It can be as simple as running to the store every week, going jogging in the morning, or visiting grandma on the weekends. The thing is, whether it’s a business trip or just a quick stroll in the park, going from one place to another is a part of everybody’s daily routine. However, if we’re not careful, we could be spreading parasitic worms to new areas without even knowing it.
Parasites are everywhere. They could be lurking in contaminated bodies of water, like ponds and lakes, or hidden inside undercooked meat and vegetables. It’s scary to think about, really, but knowing is better than not knowing, right? It gives you the upper hand because now, you can come prepared. You know what they say, preparedness is everyone’s responsibility. By protecting ourselves from getting infected, we also reduce the likelihood of spreading parasites to other people.
So, if you want to know how traveling can spread parasitic worms to new areas and what you can do to make sure you’re parasite-free during travels, read on!
How Does It Happen?
1. Eating Raw or Undercooked Meat
One of the most common ways parasitic worms enter our body is when we eat raw, undercooked, or improperly preserved animal meat. This happens more often during travels because that’s when we’re most adventurous and open to trying new things, especially if we’re in a different country. Out of respect for their culture, or sometimes, out of our own curiosity, we take things as they are.
In Japan, for instance, where raw fish dishes are considered delicacies, they take preventative measures such as freezing fish meat overnight before serving to get rid of parasitic worms. However, not all food establishments prepare raw fish dishes according to standards. So, it’s best to do some research and make sure you’re eating from a reputable restaurant to prevent contracting parasites.
Parasitic worms you can get from raw meat include Anisakid nematodes (found in raw or undercooked fish or squid), Chinese liver fluke (found in raw or undercooked freshwater fish), Diphyllobothriasis tapeworm (found in raw or undercooked fish), Lung fluke (found in undercooked crab or crayfish), Taenia saginata (found in undercooked beef), and Taenia solium (found in undercooked pork).
2. Eating Contaminated Food
Aside from eating raw or undercooked meat, you can also contract and spread parasitic worms while traveling by eating contaminated food. Most of the time, parasites reach the dining plates through unhygienic food preparation practices. That’s why you should always make a point of washing your hands before eating or handling food. It also helps to check a restaurant’s health and sanitation rating before getting a table. Did you know there are apps you can use to do that now? Yeah, we’re surprised to know about it too!
3. Swimming in or Drinking Contaminated Water
I know what you’re thinking. Come on! Swimming and drinking water? Really?! Well, yes. Really.
Parasitic worms are known as one of the most common causes of waterborne diseases in the United States. People traveling abroad, especially to countries with limited supplies of safe drinking or recreational water, are also at risk of contracting parasitic worms and infecting other people.
Parasitic worms you can get by swimming in or drinking contaminated water include Schistosoma haematobium and Dracunculus medinensis.
Schistosoma haematobium is a species of parasitic flatworms that cause the disease known as schistosomiasis, or snail fever. Freshwater snails release them into bodies of water. Then, these parasitic worms will enter the human body by penetrating the skin. Dracunculus medinensis, on the other hand, is a species of roundworms that are also known as guinea worms. They cause what’s called the guinea worm disease when people drink contaminated water.
4. Coming into Contact with Infected Objects, Animals or People
When traveling, people can also contract and spread parasitic worms through physical contact with contaminated things or infected animals and people. One example is the Echinococcus granulosus, which is also known as the hydatid tapeworm or dog tapeworm. Dogs can become infected with the tapeworm if they happen to eat contaminated sheep or goat meat. Infected dogs then pass the tapeworm eggs through their feces, which can stick to their fur or get carried around by insects and other animals.
To avoid contracting the hydatid tapeworm, never forget to wash your hands before eating, especially after coming into contact with animals. Also, while you’re traveling, refrain from touching your face or mouth before sanitizing your hands.
5. Stepping On Infected Soil
Believe it or not, but you can contract and spread parasitic worms by simply walking barefoot. One of the most common parasitic worms people can get by walking barefoot on infected soil is hookworms. Hookworm larvae can basically penetrate any part of the body that comes into contact with contaminated soil, but they mostly enter the body through the skin of the feet.
Another parasite you need to watch out for when walking without shoes on is Strongyloides stercoralis. It’s a kind of roundworm that causes a disease known as strongyloidiasis, which can affect the intestines, lungs, or skin. Symptoms of strongyloidiasis include abdominal pain, recurring diarrhea, coughing, wheezing, and red, itchy skin.
6. Fly and Mosquito Bites
Flies and mosquitoes are notorious for carrying all sorts of disease-causing parasites around. This becomes even more dangerous during travels. Different parasites reside in different areas of the world. That means there’s really no telling what disease flies or mosquitoes in a particular area could be carrying.
In Africa, Central America and Northern Argentina, it’s common for blackflies to carry a worm species known as Mansonella, which causes a disease called Mansonellosis. Those that contract the worm typically show no symptoms but infection can manifest in the form of skin pigmentation changes, skin irritations, headaches, fever, or joint pain.
Another example is Lymphatic filariasis, or elephantiasis, which is a human disease caused by parasitic filarial worms. Unlike Mansonella, elephantiasis is spread by mosquitoes. It’s a common illness in Asia and Africa. Infected people can be asymptomatic, but others suffer severe swelling of the limbs and genitals.
How Do I Protect Myself?
While it’s humanly impossible to outrun parasites, there are steps you can take to lower your risks of contracting and also spreading parasitic worms to new areas as well as other people.
- Make a habit of washing your hands regularly, especially before eating and handling food.
- Only eat raw meat from reputable restaurants.
- If you can, check a restaurant’s sanitation history and rating before eating there.
- Avoid drinking or brushing your teeth using tap water. Go for bottled water to be safe.
- Avoid swimming in stagnant bodies of water like swamps, lakes, lagoons, and ponds.
- Refrain from walking barefoot, especially outdoors.
- Use insect repellent.