Amebiasis is a parasitic infection caused by Entamoeba histolytica. The parasite may cause both intestinal and extra-intestinal disease. Intestinal disease manifests as fever, chills, bloody or mucoid diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, or alternating diarrhea with constipation. You can find entamoeba histolytica anywhere in the world. It is typically transmitted by putting anything into the mouth that has been contaminated with infected feces. The disease is preventable with appropriate measures (see How to Prevent Amebiasis). If you have acquired amebiasis, however, here are the steps to get treated.
Consult your doctor if you have travelled to an endemic area and suspect you may have it.
Amebiasis is a common health problem in Africa, Mexico, India, and parts of South America. Up to 90% of cases do not show active symptoms. This means you may not even be aware you have it. So it is always best to seek a professional opinion when in doubt.
If you suspect you may have amebiasis, your doctor can perform blood tests or stool tests to determine whether or not you have the disease.
Know the symptoms of amebiasis, when they are present.
fever and/or chills
bloody or mucoid diarrhea
alternating diarrhea with constipation.
Obtain treatment promptly if you have been diagnosed with amebiasis.
Amebiasis often resolves on its own; however, treatment can speed recovery and also prevent complications.
Complications can include severe and debilitating bowel troubles, as well as extra-intestinal disease, which means that the parasite invaded the lining of your colon and infected other areas of your body.
The most common location for extra-intestinal disease is in the liver, which always requires medical treatment, and sometimes surgery as well.
If you suspect you have amebiasis, or have been diagnosed with it, it is always best to seek the professional advice of your doctor on how best to proceed with treatment.
Ask your doctor for medications.
Even if you do not have active symptoms of the infection, treatment is helpful both as a means to prevent potential complications and a way to ensure public safety. And of course, anyone with active symptoms is always treated.
Medications for treatment include: paromomycin, iodoquinol, and diloxanide furoate among others. Ask your doctor about these options.
Understand that more intense medications are required for an infection that has spread to other parts of the body (such as the liver). In cases that have spread to the liver, metronidazole is the most common medication used. It is an antibiotic, but it works very well against this parasitic infection as well.
Monitor diarrhea and fluid loss.
If you are having a lot of diarrhea as part of the symptomatology, it is likely that you are losing fluids and potentially becoming dehydrated.
In cases such as these, always consult your doctor. You may need to be hospitalized to receive IV fluids, as fluid loss from diarrhea can be quite severe.
Be aware that medical treatments, in some cases, are insufficient.
There are times (such as with severe bowel symptoms or extra-intestinal disease) when surgical procedures are needed.
If your symptoms are not improving after a trial of medication, speak to your doctor about other medications you can try, and/or whether surgery may be needed in your case.
Listen to your doctor’s advice if he or she recommends surgery.
Times when surgery would be needed include any of the following:
uncontrollable and debilitating bowel symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and/or constipation
excessive bleeding from your digestive tract
spread of the infection to other areas of your body.
Get your liver treated (via medication or needle drainage) if needed.
Since the liver is the most common extra-intestinal organ to be infected, it sometimes needs special treatment.
Small liver infections can often be treated with medication alone.
In more severe cases, however, your doctor will likely use a needle (with ultrasound guidance) to remove the infection from your liver.
Have your colon assessed.
Sometimes, severe bowel symptoms (bowel inflammation and/or consistent diarrhea or constipation) are unable to be treated with medications alone. In more serious cases, a portion of damaged colon may need to be surgically removed.
If your colon has been “broken open” (the medical word for this is “perforated”), this will also require surgical repair.
Follow the advice of your doctor as to when surgery is needed.
Be aware of “bacterial superinfection.
” As your body’s immune system is busy fighting off the parasite that has led to amebiasis, other bacteria may have the chance to infect you simultaneously.
In cases such as these, your doctor may give you more powerful antibiotic treatment to eliminate any additional infections that have occurred at the same time.
Listen to your doctor’s suggestions on prevention.
Prevention is a key part of treatment for a number of reasons.
First, you want to prevent the infection being passed on to any of your family members or friends. It is also a public health concern to ensure that appropriate infection precautions are taken.
Second, you do not become immune to amebiasis so it is important to protect yourself from acquiring the infection again.
Use preventative measures when travelling to endemic areas (where the disease is common).
Safe sexual practices – avoid sexual activities with people who may be infected as this increases the chances of catching it yourself.
Appropriate water treatment – always use bottled water, or boil or filter your water prior to drinking to avoid contamination.
Safe food choices – avoid raw fruits and vegetables, and try to eat cooked foods or fruits you can peel to avoid contamination. Non-pasteurized milk, cheese and other dairy products should also be avoided.
If you do eat raw vegetables, soak them in vinegar for 10-15 minutes prior to eating them.
Street vendor foods, which are common in developing countries and are not evaluated for health practices, should also be avoided.
Proper hand washing is also important while abroad and at home.
Follow-up with your doctor after treatment.
It is important to follow-up and get your stool tested to ensure that the amebiasis infection has been eradicated from your body.
Careful follow-up ensures that you are fully healthy, and also that others will not catch it from you.