The holidays are coming up, and it’s just about time to hop on a plane, train, or car to visit friends and family for a great Thanksgiving feast. But wait! Before you start thinking of souvenir’s to bring home with you, make sure there is one that you leave behind. Parasites! Yes, we’re talking about those pesky organisms that leave you tired, with an upset stomach, and with a creepy-crawly feeling.
Parasitic worms can come about in many ways: through eating raw or contaminated food, through swimming or drinking unsafe water, or through poor hygiene habits to name a few common transmission methods. While on your holiday vacation, be sure that the turkey is fully cooked, that you swim in safe, chlorinated pools and hot tubs, and that you shower and wash your hands regularly!
Cooked Meats, Fruits, and Vegetables
As we mentioned above, this is one of the most common ways that a person can contract a parasite. Human parasites can be lurking in under-cooked meats like wild game, sushi, and ground meat. So how do you make sure that your food is properly cooked and safe for your Thanksgiving feat? Researchers recommend cooking whole cuts of pork, lamb, veal, or beef to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, and allowing the meat to cool for at least three minutes before eating. Ground meat and wild game should be cooked at 160 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, and poultry to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature inside of your meat when it is done cooking to be sure it has been cooked thoroughly.
In addition to under-cooked meat, avoid eating street food, salads, and fruits and vegetables from street vendors, as they may have been washed with tap water or handled un-hygienically. Poor hygiene practices related to planting, harvesting, packing, storing, and transporting fruits and vegetables can lead to contaminated food. If you wish to eat these foods, wash the fruits and veggies when you get home, and make your own salad. That way you know the foods used are safe to eat!
Unsafe Water Across Seas
If you’re traveling out of the country, it is important to only drink water that you have confirmed is safe to consume. Only drink bottled water and use bottled water to brush your teeth if you are unsure of the tap water’s safety. Avoid consuming ice, as it may have been made from tap water.
If you do plan to drink tap water rather than bottled water, purify the water with a water filter to filter out contaminants. You can also use water purification tablets to chemically disinfect water. Some parasites are not killed by iodine, so a second method such as filtering may be needed. Boiling water is one of the most effective ways to purify water. Let the water boil for at least one full minute, and then let it cool without adding ice. Higher altitudes require the water to boil for at least three minutes.
Not only should you avoid consuming unsafe water, you should also avoid swimming in lakes, rivers, streams, and oceans that may have been contaminated. Before you travel, make sure that you research any bodies of water that are known to be dangerous for swimming due to bacteria or parasites in the area that you are visiting.
Preventing a parasitic worm starts with good hygiene! Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. If you are in an area where the water may be unsafe, use hand sanitizer after washing your hands for extra protection.
Additionally, you should shower and bathe regularly. Again, if you are in a part of the world where the water may be contaminated, it is important to keep your mouth shut while in the shower. If you are staying in a hotel rather than at a friend or family member’s home, don’t assume the water is safe. Always ask the hotel when you get to the place you are staying to see if the water is safe.
Parasites can also be transferred to humans through vectors. Vectors are living organisms that can transmit diseases and parasites between humans or from animals to humans. Vectors are typically bloodsucking insects that ingest disease-producing microorganisms during a blood meal from an infected host. Then, that vector injects the microorganisms into a new host during their next blood meal. Some examples of these vectors include mosquitoes, ticks, and some species of flies. Wear bug spray or clothing such as long-sleeved shirts and long pants for protection.
Parasitic Illnesses That May Be Acquired During Travel
Below is a list of potential parasites to watch out for on your holiday vacation. This is not a comprehensive list, so be sure to check if there are other known parasites in the areas you are traveling to.
Water and food parasites
More common: giardiasis, cryptosporidiosis, cyclosporiasis
Less common: amebiasis, trichinellosis (trichinosis)
More common: malaria
Less common: chagas disease, lymphatic filariasis, onchoceriasis
Before You Travel
We know that traveling can be an exciting and stressful time, and we want to help keep you happy and healthy during the holiday season. There are a few things you should do before you travel for the holidays, especially if you are traveling internationally. International travelers should contact their physicians to schedule any recommended vaccinations before leaving the country, and contact local health departments and agencies that provide health information about the country that they plan to visit.