Amebic Dysentery (Amebiasis)

By:    Published: November 8, 2012

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Amebic dysentery, also known as amebiasis, is an illness that could affect you if you live in or are travelling to a tropical area. Like cholera, it is typically spread through contaminated water or food. Learn more about this condition, including what causes it and how you can avoid contracting it.

Definition

Amebiasis is an infection of the intestines caused by a specific parasite called Entamoeba histolytica. The parasite becomes harmful when it invades the colon wall. In more severe cases, the infection can also spread to other parts of the body, including the liver, lungs or brain. This illness is often associated with tropical and subtropical regions.

Symptoms

Only about 10 to 20 percent of people who are infected with the Entamoeba histolytica parasite actually develop symptoms from the infection; the rest are carriers of the parasite who can infect others. It’s possible to be a carrier without symptoms for anywhere from a few weeks to a few years. Those who do get sick from the parasite typically develop the following symptoms:

  • Loose stools or diarrhea
  • Excessive gas
  • Rectal pain when having a bowel movement
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Fatigue

Some cases of amebiasis are more severe and may lead to the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Bloody stools
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Liver abscess

Most symptoms appear within two to four weeks of exposure to the parasite. If you are displaying the symptoms of amebiasis, seek medical attention right away.

Causes And Risk Factors

As mentioned above, the parasite Entamoeba histolytica is responsible for the symptoms of amebiasis. The feces of an infected person can contaminate food and water, which then spreads the parasite to anyone who consumes that food or water. In this way, amebiasis is much like cholera, another disease that causes bouts of diarrhea. Unlike cholera, however, amebiasis can also be spread from person to person through contact with the mouth or rectal area of an infected individual.

Amebiasis is most common in tropical or subtropical areas with crowded living conditions or poor sanitation, particularly Africa, Mexico, India and parts of South America. In the U.S., amebiasis is relatively rare. Among Americans, amebiasis is usually only found among those who living in institutions or who have travelled to an area where amebiasis is common.

There are also several risk factors which increase your chances of contracting and developing severe amebiasis, including:

  • Alcoholism
  • Pregnancy
  • Malnutrition
  • Old or young age
  • Cancer
  • Using corticosteroid medication to suppress the immune system
  • Recent travel to a tropical region

Prevention

There are several things that can be done to help prevent amebiasis. Those who are travelling to a tropical region where there are poor sanitation conditions should use the following tips:

  • Be careful about what you drink. Only drink purified or bottled water. Avoid any other beverages that may be been made using local water.
  • Don’t eat uncooked vegetables or unpeeled fruit. Make sure any veggies you eat are thoroughly washed and cooked, and avoid any fruit that doesn’t have a protective peel. Make your own food in order to have the most control over what you eat.
  • Wash your hands frequently. Make sure you use soap and clean water when you wash your hands.

Those who have amebiasis can also take the following steps to help prevent the spread of the parasite to others:

  • Wash your hands after using the toilet. Always use soap and wash your hands thoroughly each time you visit the bathroom.
  • Avoid sexual contact. Don’t have sexual contact with another person until your infection has been treated and cleared.

Treatment

Amebiasis is usually diagnosed through a fecal sample. It’s not always found right away in a sample, so the doctor may request further samples and take your symptoms into account when diagnosis you.

The key treatment for amebiasis is an antibiotic. You’ll need to see a doctor to get the proper prescription. Those who have the parasite but aren’t sick usually get one antibiotic, while those who have developed symptoms usually get two antibiotics that are taken one after the other. The main antibiotics prescribed for amebiasis are metronidazole, paramomycin and diloxanide.

Usually, patients are not given any medication to help stop their diarrhea since this can make the amebiasis even worse. In addition, those who are experiencing vomiting may have to take their medications intravenously until they can take them orally.

Although most cases of amebiasis aren’t severe, it’s important to get it treated as soon as possible. This helps stops the spread of the illness to other people. In addition, it will help prevent some of the possible complications of the infection, such as a liver abscess or the parasite spreading to other parts of the body.

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