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The BODY snatchers Parasites are not pleasant to think about. But they're surprisingly common and can be at the root of many health problems... Could you be hosting an unwelcome guest? Words by CA S SANDRA B A RNS Y ou're probably all aware that parasites are organisms that live in or on another organism. You'll have heard of tapeworms, which can be caught from eating raw or undercooked meat that's contaminated. But there are lots of other types, too. They include various types of worms (helminths), which range in size from just a few millimetres to several metres, and protozoa, which are microscopic, single-celled parasites. They often live in the gut, but some of the smaller ones can also enter the blood and cause problems in other areas of the body. If you're freaked out by the thought of having a parasite, bear in mind that some of them may actually have benefits for your health, similar to many of the bacteria that live in our gut. However, the ones we're talking about here are associated with negative effects. These include upsetting the balance of beneficial flora in the gut, causing irritation and damage to the gut lining, and reducing our absorption of nutrients. If you suspect you have one, it should be treated. Better out than in, as they say! 42 S OM E COMMO N PA R A S I TE S... and how you get them T HR EA DWO RM S TAPEWORMS Also known as pinworms, they're common in children, who often pick them up at school. Yuck: Despite sounding horrible, and causing an itchy bum, these are relatively easy to discover and treat with over-the-counter prescriptions, which the whole family need to take at the same time. The best way to prevent them is through a strict hygiene routine - especially regular and thorough hand washing. This type of flatworm can live in the gut and grow to several metres in size. Yuck: Tapeworms are the most likely to come to mind - and make us cringe - when we think of parasites. Commonly picked up from undercooked pork, beef or fish, they can also be caught from food prepared by an infected person who hasn't washed their hands, and from veg grown in soil contaminated by faeces of infected animals. GIARDIA LAMBLIA Very common single-celled parasite, picked up from drinking contaminated water or eating fruit or vegetables that have been washed in it, or swimming in water that's contaminated. Yuck: You'll probably pick up this little critter in areas where sanitation is poor. Although our immune system can get rid of it without any help, sometimes it can hang around and cause problems. BALANCE September 2016 AMOEBAS Ranging in size, this parasite is often picked up when travelling further afield. Yuck: They may have pretty names (such as Dientamoeba fragilis and Entamoeba histolytica), but their effects are nasty! Short-term symptoms include diarrhoea, stomach pain, vomiting and lack of appetite, but they can lead to inflammation in the bowel (colitis) and can affect the liver over time. Amoebas can be picked up in the same way as giardia. BLASTO CYSTI S H O MINI S While this is a common, single-celled parasite, it isn't always considered harmful, so it may not be tested for, or diagnosed by your doctor. Yuck: This gut bug could be the 'hidden' cause of your IBS symptoms, such as bloating, wind, cramps and diarrhoea. Blastocystis can be transmitted via contaminated food or water, or via contact with an infected person - especially when travelling.

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