What we’re learning from the current outbreak of cyclospora parasites in the U.S. is that even if we live in a western, modern society, we are still susceptible to parasitic infections.
Of course, foreign travel, especially if you visit remote or under-developed areas, is a common source of parasites in Westerners, though not the only one.
This time the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) believes the parasites are coming from unwashed fruit and vegetables, but parasites can get into your body from eating sushi, pork, or other foods; swimming in lakes or rivers; cleaning a cat’s litter box; contact with pets; gardening; or even sometimes, just from drinking a glass of water from the tap (in 1993, the city of Milwaukee was infected with Cryptosporidium through the municipal water supply).
As someone who has been infested with parasites no fewer than five times (!), including positive stool samples containing both cyclospora and cryptosporidium among other parasites, I do consider myself somewhat of a parasite expert. In fact, herbal parasite cleanses comprise a large part of my naturopathic dietary clinic. I firmly believe that if you have an undiagnosed parasitic infection and it is not treated appropriately, there is only so much better your health will ever get. And, I do think that most people dealing with chronic inflammatory conditions probably have an underlying parasitic infestation.
What are the symptoms of parasites?
For the current outbreak of cyclospora, the CDC suggests that if you have stomach distress that lasts beyond 24 hours, you may be infected with cyclospora parasites. Cyclospora can cause both diarrhea and constipation, as well as bloating, gas, and discomfort.
Parasitic infection often begins with an acute phase which may include violent gastro-intestinal distress (explosive diarrhea, painful gas, cramping), vomiting, fever, dehydration, chills, sweats, shaking, and delirium. Sounds fun, huh? Some people may experience this mildly while others become terribly ill and debilitated.
Then the parasites settle into a chronic phase. This phase may last months, decades, or longer as the goal of a parasite is not to kill the host. The parasite settles in, lays eggs, and populates.
Your body, on the other hand, has difficulty forgetting that the parasite is there and really doesn’t want to be a landlord. As a result, you may experience chronic or occasional symptoms including diarrhea, constipation, bloating, swelling, vomiting, fainting, difficulty gaining or losing weight, lethargy, fatigue, or even autoimmune disorders.
How can you avoid getting parasites?
Always wash all fruits and vegetables with a veggie rinse before cutting through the skin and serving. This applies even to organic produce.
Wash your hands well with soap whenever you enter your house, and particularly after handling unwashed produce.
How can you treat and recover from cyclospora and other parasites?
Although there are western anti-parasitic medications, they are non-discriminatory and you will feel like a fragile, hollow shell after a course. As one G.I. doctor told me, treating parasites with the drug Flagyl is like killing a mosquito with a shot gun: there are unintentional casualties along the way.
Even worse, these toxic drugs will not necessarily eradicate all the stages of the parasite life-cycle (egg-larvae-adult), nor will they always kill off every kind of parasite that might be present in your body (protozoans, worms, or what have you).
In my practice, I advocate completing a three-week herbal anti-parasite regimen to eradicate any suspected parasitic infection. I do not recommend wasting money on testing as many parasites are microscopic and parasite tests are notorious for false negatives.
If you feel like you’re doing everything right –eating healthily, reducing stress, exercising regularly– yet you’re still suffering from chronic physical distress (gastro-intestinal, inflammatory, or otherwise), it would be worth your while to complete an herbal parasite cleanse under the guidance of a qualified natural health practitioner.