In the earth’s ecosystem, size doesn’t matter. Viruses, one of the tiniest creatures on earth, can concoct a new infection to take down a six-foot man in his youth. The Covid-19 pandemic proved once and for all that humans never owned earth; we’ve merely done the hard work to earn our part.
If you really think about it, we took earth from its oldest monarchs: bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. And they, too, are fighting for the crown. The fungus Trichophyton rubrum, the common cause of athlete’s foot, was found to kill other bacteria living on dead skin layers on the toe, such as Escherichia coli (E. coli). Nematodes can successfully suppress almost all other parasites that try to enter their turf.
Among these tiny creatures, parasites can be the sneakiest. They can feed off our bodies for months without us realizing it. How do they do it? How can we be better aware?
What are Parasites?
A parasite is an organism that lives off another organism, referred to as the host. To survive, a parasite needs the host alive, even if unwell. It feeds on the host itself and its resources. The tapeworm, for instance, feeds on nutrients of food as it is being digested. Hookworms suck blood. To maintain a nest, parasites have developed ways to live while remaining unnoticed.
Types of Parasites
Parasites are categorized into three groups.
1. Protozoa. Humans can only see these one-celled organisms under the microscope.
2. Helminths. With more than one cell, helminths become visible to the human eye during their adult years. Until then, they are as invisible as protozoa. Nonetheless, they can no longer multiply in our bodies once they’ve become an adult.
Helminths can either be flatworms, thorny-headed worms, or roundworms.
3. Ectoparasites. These extremely tiny but visible creatures latch on the skin and live there for as long as they could. Common ectoparasites are lice and ticks.
Common Parasites That Might Be Living In You or Your Home
Parasites might never leave our ecosystem, but we can stop them from causing disease. Here’s how you can prevent three common parasites from causing further trouble.
As visible ectoparasites, bedbugs need the darkness of the night to attack humans. They live on the mattress and sofa by day, tucked away in the corners and air holes.
This allows them to multiply further until it constitutes an invasion. By this time, you’ll need professional laundry services and a pest control team.
You can’t just sleep tight to prevent a bedbug from biting. One out of five Americans has had bedbugs wreak havoc into their home. If you’re lucky not to have experienced their wrath, protect your home by following simple precautions.
- Check secondhand furniture thoroughly before buying.
- Vacuum weekly.
- Check your luggage after a vacation, especially if you spent nights at lower-grade hotels.
This one can be mistaken as a character from a Lovecraftian or Stephen King novel. Toxoplasma Gondii, also known as T. Gondii, is a kind of neurological parasite that controls hosts through their brains.
At their worst, neurological parasites only affect a host’s actions. But at their best, they can completely change the way a host thinks and behaves. The good news is, these parasites never cross the human population, except for T.Gondii.
T. Gondii started using rodents as their host. Until they eventually made their way into cats by affecting the rodents’ instinctive mechanism.
They shut off rodents’ aversion to cats’ scent. They can also change a rodent’s sleeping habits and make them morning explorers. An infected rat would lose his survival instincts and pounce on a cat five times larger than him. As the cat eats the rat, the parasite nests by the cat’s small intestine. It waits, then hops onto fecal matter as it exits the cat’s system. An unassuming owner could get infected by cleaning out the feces from the litter box.
Studies have postulated that a T. Gondii infection may cause mental disorders. High amounts of T. Gondii antibodies were found in schizophrenia patients—much higher than those of the psychiatrically healthy control.
It can also affect humans differently based on their sex. Infected males become riskier and get themselves involved in car crashes. Infected women are more likely to commit suicide.
But why do they need humans to act this way? What good will it do them? Further studies are needed to find out.
In the meantime, here’s what we can do. If you live with a cat, keep the litter box away from common spaces. Always clean the litter scooper after every use.
T. Gondii can also be transmitted through vegetables and meat that were exposed to oocysts in the soil. Thus, never skimp on cleaning every ingredient for your dinner.
A protozoan parasite, Giardia could cause a puppy’s trip to the vet. It lives on the small intestines of felines and canines. While it doesn’t cause harm to healthy adult pets, Giardia can compromise a young pet’s gastrointestinal system and cause extreme weight loss.
Preventing Giardia is simple. Just stick to the basics: always keep your pet’s food and water clean, and take them regularly to the vet for deworming. Additionally, don’t let dogs drink water in public places during your walks.
Parasites Are Bad, But We Need Them
If parasites became extinct one day, they could cause an ecological disaster, according to scientists. The best thing we could do is treat them as a frenemy and never let them get too close to cause sickness.
Some parasites have evolved to protect humans from disease, giving us hope for a more amicable co-existence.