What is a Parasite? What do Parasites do?

Do you know there are over 1,000 known parasite species that can infect humans? Yes!! Let’s know more about parasites more.

What is a Parasite?

A parasite is an organism that resides in another organism called the host with the purpose of harming it, in most of the cases. This is because parasites are dependent on their host for survival -to live, grow and multiply.

While a parasite seldom kills the host, in some cases it can happen. And if it does happen, it this means the parasite will now find a new home. The parasite uses the host to gain strength and as a result the host loses some strength.

Typically, the life cycle of a parasite includes several developmental stages. The parasite may go through two or more changes in body structure during these stages as it lives and moves through the environment for one or more hosts.

Types of Parasites

Parasites are extremely varied group of organisms. Over 70% of parasites are microscopic in size like the malarial parasite; but, some worm parasites can reach over 30 m in length.

There are three main types of parasitic diseases:

  • Protozoa: These are single-celled organism. Protozoans can only multiply within the host only. Plasmodium that causes malaria is an example.
  • Helminths: These are the worm parasites. Diseases like roundworm, spiralis, pinworm, tapeworm, and fluke are caused by Helminthes.
  • Ectoparasites: These are the only parasites that live on, instead of living in their hosts. Lice and fleas are the examples.

A few known species of Parasites

Endoparasite: These reside inside the host; examples include tapeworm, heartworm, and flatworms. While those that live in the spaces within the host’s body are called intercellular parasites, intracellular parasites live within the host’s cells.

Intracellular parasites include viruses and bacteria; they rely on a third organism, known as the vector or carrier. The vector transmits the endoparasite to the host. Example: mosquito.

Epiparasite: These feed on other parasites and are involved in a relationship known as hyper-parasitism. For example: a flea living on a dog may have a protozoan in its digestive tract and the protozoan is the hyperparasite.

Parasitoid: The larval development in parasitoid takes place in or on another organism and the host usually dies.

Facts about Parasites

Here are some key points about parasites.

  • Parasites live within other organisms and flourish by harming their host.
  • Malaria is caused by a parasite..
  • There are at least 1,000 species of parasite capable of living in or on humans.
  • Parasites that live on the surface of their hosts are known as ectoparasites.
  • Some parasitic worms can grow to over 30 m in length.
  • Epiparasites are parasites that live on other parasites.
  • Babesiosis is a parasitic disease that affects the red blood cells.
  • Trichomonas vaginalis is a sexually transmitted parasite.
  • Humans can become infected with clonorchiasi after ingesting contaminated ants.

Symptoms of parasitic diseases

There is a wide array of potential symptoms because there are so many species of parasite. Sometimes the symptoms may appear somewhat like hormone deficiency, pneumonia or food poisoning. These are some of the potential symptoms that might occur:

  • Itchy anus or vagina
  • Weight loss
  • Increased appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea, and vomiting
  • Sleeping problems
  • Anemia
  • Aches and pains
  • General malaise
  • Allergies
  • Anxiety.

Control of parasites

Often the parasitic infections are treated by a variety of medical procedures, like with the use of antibiotics. However, the best way of controlling infection is prevention. A number of drugs have been tested by the scientists that can be taken as a barrier to certain parasites. Improving sanitary conditions of water and food sources, proper education about personal hygiene, right cooking techniques, and control of intermediate and vector host organisms are some other measures of control.

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