What are Parasitic Infections?
Parasitic infections of the skin are caused by the infestation of the skin by parasites. Parasites come in many different forms, but are usually arthropods (like insects, spiders, or mites) or worms. Parasites are very, very small, and can be difficult to detect until they actually bite or otherwise provoke symptom; some are even microscopic and cannot be identified visually, even though they’re capable of causing intense distress.
Parasitic infections have a tendency to be significantly more resilient than bacterial, viral and fungal infections. Bacterial, viral and fungal infections can be more effectively fought by the body’s own immune system without outside intervention, and will frequently resolve themselves. Parasitic infections, by contrast, have a tendency to grow progressively worse and worse over time. Parasites may reside on the surface of the skin, cling to hairs, or burrow deep into the skin. Burrowing parasites cannot be easily wiped away and are immune to many forms of topical treatment that cannot penetrate the outer layers of the skin to evict the parasites.
Who gets Parasitic Infections?
Everyone is susceptible to parasitic infection. Parasitic infections do vary in severity, nature and vector however, so it can be difficult to outline specific rules for who is most likely to contract a parasitic infection. There is one set rule above all others, however, that holds true for nearly all forms of parasitic infection. Individuals who frequently come into contact with large groups of people, particularly the same groups of people, are far more likely to contract a parasitic infection. Schoolchildren and teachers, as well as individuals managing preschools are all prone to parasitic infections. Parasitic infections have a strong tendency to break out contagiously and spread like wildfire through small and large crowds alike, and subsequent infections can increase the likelihood of reinfection and a longer time until the parasites are properly purged.
What causes Parasitic Infections?
Parasitic infections are caused by the exposure of individuals to parasites. There are many possible vectors for one to encounter a parasite, however, which can make them difficult to avoid in general (although avoiding each individual sort of parasite known for infecting the human skin can be easier, if one is willing to devote the time to specific regimens).
Many parasites can be encountered in the wild, especially in grasses. This is especially true in rural areas, where ticks and other mites are frequently found, although the grass of lawns has also been known to harbor parasites. Trees are likely offenders, as well. These infections are largely random, with fairly little risk to most individuals. People that are likely to spend an extended period of time around these sources of possible infection are more likely to be insulated against the source of the parasites by long sleeves, boots and other forms of protection. None of these methods are completely fool-proof or perfect, but they do provide a significant defensive barrier.
The prominence of parasites out in the wild does not exclude the likelihood of encountering them in civilization. In fact, most parasitic infections are contracted and spread from human to human. Lice and mites are all capable of spreading from skin-to-skin contact, and the sharing of garments, even if they have been washed, is a common form of infection. This has been known to lead to near-panics in schools and workplaces as parasites spread or threaten to spread, frequently to the dismay of parents and children alike.
Many more parasites are capable of infecting both animals and humans. These can be particularly resilient and particularly dangerous, as animals are generally better equipped to fight off the parasitic infection than are humans. Fleas are a notable source of aggravation for many humans, even though they more commonly afflict animals.
There is frequently a difference between the cause of the infection and the cause of the symptoms, however. Parasites themselves do not always cause symptoms at all. Fleas, for instance, do: they bite, which causes minor infections to the skin which subsequently form pustules and itch badly. This differs from many other parasites, such as some kinds of mites: mites can burrow into the skin. This in and of itself can cause severe itching, but is more likely to cause an allergic reaction. This simply means that the immune system is responding to a perceived or real threat, which can produce symptoms (most symptoms of most illnesses are actually the body responding to threat or damage). This can mean inflammation and subsequent pain, swelling and even worse itching. Allergic reactions, furthermore, take a long time to build up before symptoms present, and roughly as long to wind down afterward, making them stubborn and generally agonizing.
What do Parasitic Infections cause?
Parasitic infections cause a host of symptoms, which vary from parasite to parasite. The symptom that can be most easily expected of a parasitic infection is pruritis, better known simply as ‘itching’. No matter what parasites do, be it crawling across the skin or burrowing into it, they can aggravate the surrounding nerves and cause itching. Itching can frequently cause scratching, which is one of the easiest ways to spread parasites after infection has already occurred.
Many parasites carry with them various other bacteria and viruses which are worthy of concern. Ticks, for instance, are frequently and rightfully associated with lyme disease, which poses a far greater risk than the biting of a tick or the subsequent sucking of blood could ever do. These secondary infections are occasionally the primary symptom that requires treatment, as parasites do not always have long lifespans, and many frequently die before they can reproduce.
How serious are Parasitic Infections?
Parasitic infections can be very serious things. Parasites can be quite destructive to the body’s system, even disregarding the potential for allergic reaction and subsequent worse conditions as a result. Parasitic infections vary in seriousness from asymptomatic to mere nuisances to out-and-out life-threatening. It is impossible to pinpoint the severity of parasitic conditions writ large for this reason. However, all parasitic conditions are serious to a certain degree as nearly all of them, with a few exceptions, are contagious. Unlike many infectious pathogens, parasites are not something one can build an immunity to. If one suffers from the flu, passes it on to someone else and then recovers, they are not likely to suffer from the flu again as a result of exposure to the person they passed the flu onto because their immune system is prepared to deal with that particular strain of the flu quickly and efficiently. Parasites do not offer such a benefit, and re-infection means that parasites can perpetuate themselves even in the face of effective treatment if everyone involved isn’t receiving appropriate treatment simultaneously.
What does Parasitic Infection treatment look like?
Parasitic infection treatment varies from parasite to parasite. Certain treatments are generally effective for many, including certain preparations of sulfur, and others are peculiar to the biology of individual parasites. Symptomatic treatment is generally compatible with whatever the parasite should cause, with teatree oil being a frequent solution to the itching from rashes.
Prevention is always a key element of treatment, and there is a large bias given toward infected individuals keeping themselves properly insulated against spreading the infection to others. There are always steps for others to take to avoid infection themselves, but a huge focus is those that are aware they are infected keeping others from being infected. Sometimes this caution grows to near-hysteric levels; many children in elementary school, for instance, are subjected to irrationally-drawn out projections of the danger that head lice pose, and are led to believe that sharing a baseball cap at any time for any reason will inevitably lead to lice infection. The truth is that no, this isn’t the case—but that doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to share unwashed garments of any sort under any circumstances, either.
How do I know if I have a Parasitic Infection?
Parasitic infections can be difficult to diagnose, and in general, one should always rely on a medical professional to determine the nature of something that may be a parasitic infection. For individuals that aren’t medical professionals or otherwise lack training, the only effective means to determine that a parasitic infection has occurred is to physically see the presence of the parasites on or in the skin, and this is not always feasible to do. Even if self-diagnosis were possible, home remedies are not always reliable, making parasitic infections something to contact a medical professional about under any and all circumstances.