A parasite is a plant or animal that lives on the outside or inside of another plant or animal. It gets its nourishment from the animal or plant on which, or in which, it lives. Some parasites are so small that they can only be seen under a microscope. For example, the parasite that lives in human blood and causes malaria is so tiny it can only be seen under a microscope. However, some parasites, like the tapeworm which attaches itself to the inside of an animal’s or human’s stomach, may grow to b several feet long.
The world is full of all kinds of parasites. An orchid plant that attaches itself to the bark of a tree is a parasite; many vines are parasites; a tick that attaches itself to a dog’s skin and sucks its blood for nourishment is a parasite; and many kinds of worms that get inside an animal’s or human’s body and gain their nourishment from the animal or human are parasites.
Diseases caused by parasites are fairly common in children who play in dirt where worms and other parasites live. The parasites often go from the ground into a child’s body when the child puts his dirty hands into his mouth. Parasites also get into children’s bodies when they kiss or hug or play with pets who have infected worms or ticks on their bodies. And finally, parasites may enter the body when an infected insect, like a mosquito carrying the malaria parasite, bites someone’s skin.
There are a great number of different diseases and conditions caused by parasites. Here are just a few of them, and how they affect children:
This is an infection caused by one of four kinds of malarial parasite. It comes about when a person is bitten by a mosquito that is infected with the. parasite.
During the first week of malaria, the patient will have attacks of fever, headaches, and chilly sensations. Then, during the weeks afterward, he may feel fine one day, and the next day he may have a high fever and severe chills lasting for a few hours. Then, he will break out in a great sweat. This situation continues with one day high fever and chills, the next day no fever or chills.
The mosquitoes that carry the malaria parasites breed primarily in the humid, hot climate of the tropics and subtropics. They are seldom found in temperate regions.
An ameba is a single-celled animal organism that may cause diseases in children. The most common of such diseases is dysentery caused by Endamoeba histolytica.
The diagnosis of malaria is made by taking a little sample of the patient’s blood and examining it under a microscope. On examination, the malaria parasite will be found.
Malaria attacks may go on for many weeks or months if treatment isn’t given. Fortunately, there are several excellent medications to control malana, but they must be given over a long period of time in order to cure the condition.
To prevent this disease, someone who is in an area where malaria exists should take antimalarial pills every day. Also, he should protect himself against being bitten by mosquitoes.
This is a form of diarrhea caused by a tiny one-celled animal parasite called the ameba. A child with amebic dysentery will have crampy pains in his abdomen, many watery, loose bowel movements, loss of appetite, loss of weight, and anemia.
The diagnosis of this condition is made by examining the stool in a laboratory and seeing the ameba parasite under a microscope. Luckily, there are excellent medicines to kill the parasite and cure the child.
To prevent amebic dysentery, a child must be very clean about his body and his eating habits. Also, if he isn’t careful, he may spread the infection to other members of his family.
Tapeworm sometimes grow to be many feet long. Medicines may cause the worm to be passed out of the intestines. Unless the head of the worm comes out with the segments, the worm will continue to grow.
Various worms can easily get into a child’s body if he runs barefoot outdoors, if he has the habit of putting 1 dirty fingers into his mouth, or if he plays with animals who have worms.
There are dozens of different kinds of worms, including the hookworm, the whipworm, the pinworm, and the tapeworm. Each one can get into the body, and each one can cause a different disease.
Some of the worms that get into the stomach and intestines finally come out in the stool. When they appear in the stool, doctors can examine them and will therefore be able to tell the exact kind of worm that is causing trouble. Occasionally, a worm will get into the blood, or will reach the muscles or other organs of the body. These worms may be harder to find, but there are ways of discovering and getting rid of them.
People are fortunate that doctors have discovered medicines to kill practically every type of worm that can get into the body.
Here are some good rules to follow if we want to avoid conditions caused by parasites:
1. Don’t drink any water in the country or in a foreign land unless you are positive it is pure. Don’t eat the skins of raw fruits and raw vegetables when you are visiting in the country. Fresh fruit should be peeled, and raw vegetables should be cooked.
2. Children should protect themselves against mosquitoes, and against lice and other insects that might carry parasites. Mosquito sprays should be used. Long slacks or jeans, long-sleeved blouses or shirts, should be worn in areas where there are mosquitoes.
3. Vaccinations should be given against diseases carried by insects and viruses. For example, before traveling to some foreign countries, it is a good idea to be vaccinated against typhus fever, yellow fever, the plague, and other contagious diseases. When going to an area where there is malaria, a child should take antimalarial pills every day. And when camping out in woods where there might be ticks, it might be wise to be vaccinated against Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
4. Children should not kiss and hug dogs or cats or other pets that run wild in the fields. Such animals may carry insects that can transmit parasites.
5. Children should wash thoroughly when they come indoors and, of course, they should never put dirty fingers in their mouths!
Among the parasites found in children are: whipworm, hookworm, trichinosis larva in muscle, adult trichinosis worm, and liver fluke.