It’s summer time and the local swimming-hole is a most-sought after respite from the scorching heat of the season. With the inner tubes floating on the surface, you’re sure to enjoy a day in the refreshing lake. That is, until you are invaded by the monsters inhabiting your swimming area. These monsters are microscopic in size, undetectable by normal means, and can literally make your body their new home. From illness-inducing, commonly known ones like Cryptosporidium and Giardia, to horrific “brain-eating” parasites, these creatures are very real dangers that can be encountered in ponds and lakes scattered across the United States.
Your defense against these parasitic micro-organisms is to educate yourself before you take that dip in the water. You need to know what you face, what signs of sickness may happen, and what steps to take if symptoms develop.
What Parasites You Face
Although a pond may appear crystal clear, it may be a haven for countless parasites waiting to invade your body. Some of the well-known parasites include cryptosporidiosis and Giardiasis. These parasites are present in freshwater lakes throughout the United States.
Schistosomiasis is rare but has been reported in the upper Midwest and parts of the south and southwest. Even rarer, though occasionally found in the US, often brought in by those traveling abroad, is the Guinea worm. However, as bad as these parasites could be, a more disturbing one is also lurking in the waters of your local ponds. This being the Naegleria fowleri parasite or more commonly known as, the brain-eating Amoeba.
All the parasites that you may face when exposed to lake water have their own distinctive symptoms and characteristics. Knowing these can increase your chances of avoiding severe medical illnesses and possibly death.
Point of Entry
One could say that being in lake water will increase your chances of acquiring one or more of this parasites. The actual way that each enter your body is specific and very unique. The Guinea worm enters the body when a person drinks infected water. This statement alone further emphasizes the fact that all water must be purified before drinking. Whether you boil it, add chemicals, use ultraviolet light, purifying is a must. A person infected with Guinea worm disease can contaminate the entire area if they enter the water with an open wound.
Just being around the water or swimming under the surface can cause Cryptosporidium or Giardia to enter your body. All it takes is some water being ingested while enjoying your day on the water to initiate the infection.
Schistosomiasis is transmitted through fresh water snails. Worms that reside within the snail are released into the water. If they come into contact with human skin, infection can begin on the unsuspecting recipient.
The most terrifying micro-monster, the “brain-eating amoeba,” enters the body through a person’s nose. This happens when the victim is diving, jumping into the water, or water-skiing, which pushes water into their nasal cavity. Once there, it travels to the brain for an outcome that is nearly at all times, fatal.
Symptoms of Infection
The horrifying Naegleria fowleri parasite causes amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). Early symptoms may include headaches, fever, nausea, or vomiting. These can develop on average five days after the parasite has entered the body. After that, as a few more days pass, stiffness in the victim’s neck, confusion or disorientation of their surroundings, irregular balance, hallucinations and seizures can occur. After that, the disease can rapidly progress until death. This usually happens within a time span of only five days. This short period from exposure to death illustrates the importance of early medical detection of the parasite if there is any chance for the host to survive.
Symptoms of Schistosomiasis include fever, blood in a victim’s urine or feces, and severe abdominal discomfort. Long-term complications can occur in the gastrointestinal system, the heart, liver and urinary system.
Cryptosporidium and Giardia share similar symptoms to Schistosomiasis. Gastrointestinal upset usually occurs within a span of about two days to two weeks. This could include vomiting, watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, headache and chills. Weight loss is also a symptom, yet at times, victims don’t always correlate it with the parasite being the cause. These symptoms are continuous up to a full month. Those people with weak gastrointestinal systems and/or are susceptible to dehydration could eventually die.
For a healthy person, Cryptosporidium and Giardia will “clean” itself out of your body within about a month’s time. Anti-parasitic drugs can be used to fight Giardia and speed it along. However, no such drug as yet exists for Cryptosporidium. Over-the-counter diarrhea medications may also aid in easing the symptom. For those people receiving immunosuppressive medications, the outcome may be much more severe, such as long-term complications and even death.
Naegleria fowleri is a parasite that is outside the realms of treatment and medical success. Traditional medications are not effective in removing this parasite form the human body, especially when it has made its journey to the brain. Only through new medical procedures, methods and treatments can the patient be given a small chance.
The parasite, Naegleria fowleri, is considered a rare infection in the United States. “Rare” being defined as less than 200,000 cases reported. However, even this statistic is misleading. The fact is that only 40 infections were reported in the United States from 2007-2014. Only a total of 143 known infections span from 1962 to 2016. Though the fatality rate is a staggering 97 percent, the proportion of infection for those enjoying summer fun while swimming in recreational waters and those acquiring the parasite is incredibly huge. Schistosomiasis is extremely rare in the Unites States. Most cases, some 66 million on average in 2015 occur outside the North American continent.
What Are Your Chances?
Cryptosporidium and Giardia may be overestimated on their prevalence in the backwoods ponds, lakes and other small stagnant pools throughout the hot, sticky southeast United States. Some tests have illustrated that Giardia either is not present in all water sources or it is present in such small proportions (it takes approximately 20 viable cysts to develop giardiasis) that a person wouldn’t become sick if theses minimal amount of Giardia cysts are ingested.
With this in mind, however, studies vary greatly. Some test waters found at high elevations in mountainous locations have very little to no Giardia cysts, most likely due to its extreme location, away from the defecation of animals and under a blanket of constant cold. Other samples taken in warm water pools in the south were saturated with cysts. Due to these extremes in both the location and the surrounding conditions of the samples being tested, results were almost always widely diverse and as such, overall inconclusive.
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