Do you love camping or traveling? Do you love breathing in the crisp, fresh air and basking in the quiet of nature? Or just taking in new surroundings when you visit new places? You may love getting a break from life by camping or traveling. But could you be bringing back with you more than just a refreshed soul?
I just got home from an overnight camp at a group campsite in Oregon, US. It was a beautiful location along the Owyhee River, close enough to the river to hear the rushing of the water as you fell asleep. And shallow enough for all the kids to play in the water as long as they avoided the handful of fly fishers that had staked out spots in the middle of the river, waiting for the next trout to find its way to their bait.
Interestingly enough in the kitchen of the “mess hall,” there were specific instructions:
- How to contact local police at this remote camp location,
- How to properly cleanse and sanitize dishes
- Guidelines on the use of water both as recreation and hydration
Those instructions included more than a few words about aquatic parasites.
Just the word “parasite” conjures up scary images in you I'm sure. Whether it’s a bug or that creepy cousin who only seems to show up when there’s food involved, parasites feed off of unwitting hosts. Until you let them know they’re no longer welcome. But you still have to remove them by force!
In the case of parasites infesting your body, they feed off the nutrients you take in for yourself. They deprive you of needed nutrition and in many cases, cause chronic illnesses. It can range from minor to life-threatening, and everything in-between. It’s bad enough if you have to handle minor health challenges. But it’s those chronic and life-threatening illnesses that make this a serious issue for you and your loved ones. Either way parasite cleansing can be vital.
Parasites live everywhere you eat, play and sleep. They are in or on:
- All animals (whether wild or your favorite pet)
- All bodies of water (lakes, streams, puddles, and rivers)
- All soil (whether in the mountains or your lawn in the city)
So whether you’re a homebody or a world traveler, you’re at risk. These omnipresent parasites can find their way into your life through a variety of avenues. They typically end up in your system via contaminated food or water. As already noted, the spectrum of parasitic infection varies widely from mild illness to death if left untreated.
There are various ways to prevent and/or treat infections. Spending a little time at your practitioner’s office getting a blood panel done can detect some types of parasites. But not always.
The latest figures from the US CDC indicate that parasitic infections afflict a full one-third of Americans. But parasites know no boundaries. They can affect you or anyone else, anywhere, anytime. The simple, extremely reliable test I commonly use if someone asks,
“Is it parasites, doc?”
Is to grab the wrist of my patient, locate the pulse, and respond,
“If you have a pulse, you have parasites.”
That's why I encourage everyone to consider parasite cleansing.
So what’s crawling inside you?
This is a question with multiple replies, each of which comes fraught with its own level of peril to the human body. Many issues of which can be avoided and eradicated with the appropriate treatment.
Let’s take a look at the top three water- and food-borne parasites that could already be taking up residence in your intestinal tract:
Back when we were kids going on Boy Scout and Girl Scout hikes near mountain lakes and streams, we were told to “not drink the water.” That cool, refreshing water in that little stream wasn’t just water. It was likely swarming with giardia. The leaders were right to warn you not to drink it.
Giardia is a microscopic parasite that gives you the diarrheal illness known as giardiasis. (1)
This terrible infection goes by other names like:
- Giardia intestinalis
- Giardia lamblia
- Giardia duodenalis
This parasite is found on surfaces in your home, or in your soil. It lives on your food, or in your water that has been contaminated with feces (poop) from infected humans or animals.
Giardia is protected by an outer shell that allows it to survive outside a host body for long periods of time. Unfortunately, that makes it tolerant to your attempt at chlorine disinfection. While the parasite can be spread in different ways, water (drinking water and recreational water) is the most common mode of transmission.
You read that right: Giardia is protected with an outer shell that allows it to survive outside the body and makes it tolerant to chlorine disinfection--that chlorine that you and everyone down at the pool trust to keep the water clean. This M&M won’t melt in your hand or your mouth. It takes up residence elsewhere in your body, and your body is worse off because of it.
Whether you’re trying to beat the heat in summertime, or just relax after a long travel day at the hotel, swimming pools can be very inviting. They’re relaxing, comfortable, and a dip in that hot tub can really bring the relief to your tired muscles. But when you’re the only person in the pool, are you really alone?
Cryptosporidium is a microscopic parasite that, like giardia, causes diarrheal disease. This one is known as cryptosporidiosis. Both the parasite and the disease are commonly known as "Crypto." (2)
This parasite, which can infect both animals and humans, is similarly protected by an outer shell that allows it to survive outside the body for long periods and makes it very tolerant to chlorine disinfection. Yes. Just like its relative, Giardia, cryptosporidium thumbs its nose at the pool guy, too. Not good.
While cryptosporidium spreads in several different ways, water (drinking water and recreational water) is the most common. So that fun dip in the pool and that moment where your kids put a little pool water in their mouth and spray it out at their sibling? Yep. The results could be “cryptic.” Cryptosporidium is a leading cause of waterborne disease among humans in the United States.
Cryptosporidium infection (cryptosporidiosis) is an illness caused by tiny, one-celled cryptosporidium parasites. When cryptosporidia enter your body, they travel to your small intestine and then burrow into the walls of your intestines. Later, cryptosporidia are shed in your feces. (3)
Some people who become infected with cryptosporidium end up symptom-free. Those infected can still pass on the infection to others. Usually, infection with cryptosporidium causes a gastroenteritis-type illness. Gastroenteritis is an infection of the bowels. It can take between 3 to 12 days after contact with cryptosporidium before you develop symptoms.
If you end up stepping into the ring with a cryptosporidium infection, it usually means about a week or two of watery diarrhea that eventually goes away. That’s a best-case scenario. If your immune system is already compromised, or if you have any autoimmune deficiency, cryptosporidiosis means a potentially life-threatening situation if left unaddressed. As with many other types of infections, those whose immune systems that are compromised explicitly by HIV/AIDS are at critical risk of this type of infection. (4)
Be careful about your access to water in public places. This especially includes:
- Swimming pools
- Water parks
- Natural water sources like lakes
Being more cautious around water will significantly decrease your risk of a cryptosporidium infection!
So why the care around public pools and water parks? As noted, Cryptosporidium doesn’t seem to have much trouble with common chlorine-based disinfectants. Additionally, the parasite is hearty and can survive for months at average temperatures. You read that correctly:
It can survive for months without a host.
It can be destroyed by boiling or freezing, however.
Some studies indicate that the secondary results of a cryptosporidium infection may exacerbate the effects of other bowel related diseases like:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS),
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s Disease
These studies are ongoing but are a further indication of the ability of Crypto to further weaken you if an immunodeficiency already weakens your immune system.
Eating healthy while you are on the go is always a complicated proposition. Hitting up a quick-service restaurant is sometimes your fastest option, and now that so many are carrying salads, it can be a bit healthier too.
So what happens when produce is served but not properly handled? In a case from July 2018 in the United States, we see how quickly dozens of individuals can be affected by cyclospora infection. Plus how supply chains can be affected, and companies scramble with the FDA to contain the outbreak. This particular case resulted in salads being pulled off shelves in restaurants across fourteen states in the U.S. (5)
Cyclosporiasis is an intestinal illness caused by the microscopic parasite Cyclospora cayetanensis. You can become infected with Cyclospora by consuming food or water contaminated with the parasite. If you are living or traveling in countries where cyclosporiasis is endemic, you are even more at risk for infection.
While it occurs in many countries, cyclosporiasis seems to be most common in tropical and subtropical regions. In areas where cyclosporiasis has been studied, your risk for infection is seasonal. However, no consistent pattern has been identified regarding the time of year or environmental conditions, such as temperature or rainfall.
In the United States, foodborne outbreaks of cyclosporiasis have been linked to various types of imported fresh produce like:
- Snow peas
- Young salad greens
So far frozen and canned foods seem to be safe from cyclospora.
So What Do I Do?
U.S. cases of infection also have occurred in persons who traveled to cyclospora-endemic areas. To reduce your risk for an infection while traveling, take precautions such as:
- Taking care to consume only treated/purified water
- Choosing foods that are less likely to cause infection and have been adequately cleaned before consumption, and other similar precautions
- Create a hostile environment for them in your body and remind parasites that they aren't welcome!
- Support your bowels so the parasites don't have as much of a chance to take up residence
- Use essential oils that kill parasites
Remember that routine chemical disinfection or sanitizing methods are unlikely to protect you from Cylospora oocysts! (6)
And if you haven’t been able to avoid travel to such areas? Or if you haven’t been able to resist your children’s (or your) desire to spend a little time at the pool or relax in the hotel hot tub? You may choose to get some tests run. Blood work might reveal something. Look for a comprehensive panel.
Better yet, do the cheapest, quickest most reliable parasite test. Do you have a pulse?
You have parasites!
Whether or not your work comes back showing you have parasites, look for the right kind of protocol that can help you get your drainage going. Then stir up (and root out) parasites that have taken up residence in your microbiome. Parasites don’t go easily, but they can be taken out. This process may take time, especially when the timeline that has brought you to this point has been a long one.
Find a solid plan. Stick to that plan. Be patient. Consult your healthcare practitioner. And then kick out those unwanted guests and seize control of your body back!