Amoebiasis also known by the name entamoebiasis or amebiasis is a parasite infection of the intestines that is caused by protozoan E. histolytica or Entamoeba histolytica. Person suffering from amebiasis may have various symptoms such as fever, diarrhoea, cramps and the likes.
The amoeba disease may affect liver, intestines or parts of the body as well. Although any one can suffer from this disease it is mostly common in case of those who live in developing country and do not have good sanitary conditions. It can also be found in people who have travelled to developing countries. Men who have sex with other men and also people with compromising immune systems and other health conditions can suffer from the disease.
Causes of Amebiasis
E. histolytica is a protozoan that mostly enters the human body when a person ingests cysts through water or food intake. Direct contact with feces matter is another way through which it can enter the body. Cysts are inactive form of parasite that can live for many months in the environment or soil where they were deposited in feces. The cysts which are very small are present in fertilizer, soil or water that has been contaminated with infected feces. While handling or preparing food, food handlers may transmit the cysts. Transmission of cysts is also possible during colonic irrigation or sex.
Once cysts enter the body they lodge in the digestive track and migrate to large intestine. There they can burrow into the colon or the intestinal wall and may cause colitis, diarrhoea and tissue destruction. After breaching the intestinal walls, the trophozites can enter the blood stream and then travel to various internal organs. This can result in various medical conditions such as:
- Severe illness
Signs and Symptoms
As per records only one in 10 people who are infected with the parasite become sick. Amebiasis symptoms are mild and can include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Diarrhoea: Passage of frequent semi formed stools per day, or passage of soft stools with occasional blood and mucus
- Excessive gas
- Unintentional weight loss
- Rectal pain while having a bowel movement (tenesmus)
In case the parasites have invaded the lining of your intestine, it can result in amoebic dysentery. Amoebic dysentery is quite dangerous and can result in bloody and watery stools and severe stomach cramping. Also, if the parasite enters the blood stream, it can result in tissue destruction and abscesses in your heart, lungs, liver, brain and other organs.
There is no immunization available to protect against gastrointestinal amebiasis. Hence certain steps as below needs to be followed to avoid the infection:
- Strengthen your immune system: If immune system is excellent in shape it will help in preventing an infection from Entameoba histolytica. Immunity system can be developed by drinking pure water every day and staying hydrated. However, do not dilute your stomach acids as it results in destroying most bugs. Avoid drinking water right after or before any meal. Eat plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits and grains. Take vitamin supplements if you are not getting sufficient amounts from your food.
- Take care during travels: There are many people who pick up the infection when they travel to other countries. Hence it is important to be very careful while travelling and reassure yourself about the source of your food and water.
- Practice good hygiene: One of the key ways to prevent contacting the disease is by practicing good hygiene. Always wash your hands with soap and water before preparing or eating any food. Use clean toilets. Clean the toilet seats properly especially public bathrooms before using.
- Take care about water sources: It is advisable never to use untreated water that may have been contaminated by feces. Use boiled water for drinking if you are not sure about the quality of water being provided for drinking.
- Dispose human feces in a proper manner: It is to be ensured that the septic tank is not leaking and regularly emptied by trained personnel. In case of camping keep human waste activity from sleeping and cooking area.
- Be aware and implement safe eating and food handling practice
Diagnosis of disease
Your doctor will enquire in detail about your recent trips to areas where the disease is common. He or she will also look for specific symptoms of amoebic infection especially symptoms such as loose stools, diarrhoea and the presence of mucus and blood in your bowel movements.
Methods of diagnosis include microscopy, stool culture, serology, antigen detection and molecular probes. Several blood tests can also be done. In some cases even after stool and blood test if the result is not clear than the doctor may examine the intestinal wall directly.
Treatment for amebiasis
There are certain drugs such as nitroimidazole drugs which are prescribed to the patient once they have been identified to be suffering from the disease. Amoebiasis drugs will help in killing amoebas in the blood, in liver abscesses and in the wall of the intestine. The medicine may be given to be taken directly by mouth or it may be given directly in the veins intravenously.
Steps to improve the health
The various steps that need to be followed so as to ensure better health are:
- Use bottled water or boiled or filtered water and during lots of water.
- Go for safe food choice such as avoiding raw vegetables and fruits. Trying to eat home cooked food. Cheese, non-pasteurized milk and other dairy products should be avoided.
- Soak raw vegetables in vinegar for sometime before eating them
- Go for safe sexual practice
- Proper hand wash after certain intervals is must
- Avoid street vendor food in developing countries
- Take the medicines properly
- Go to a doctor at the slightest indication of the disease so that treatment can start early
- Amoebiasis medications should be taken only after consultation with your doctor and it should be taken as per the instruction of the doctor.
Important things to know
Amoebiasis treatment when done for few weeks will cure the disease. However, medication cannot keep you away from getting the infection again. If you continue to travel or live in areas where amoebas are found chances of repeated episodes of amebiasis is there. Children especially infants less than five years of age need to be kept under care as amebiasis can be fatal. Also, for men who have sex with men are also at risk of getting the disease through sexual contact.