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Summer Fun Can Lead to More Summer Parasites

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Summer Fun Can Lead to More Summer Parasites

May 25, 2016
Pathology labs like ARUP see an increase in parasite cases during summertime. Hiking, swimming in pools, traveling and barbecuing are all common summer activities that can expose you to parasites. Kristen Case from ARUP joins us to talk about the infections she sees during the summer and what you can do to protect yourself.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: Parasites that spike in the summer, how to identify them so you can avoid being infected. We'll examine that next on The Scope.

Announcer: Health tips, medical views, research and more for a happier, healthier life. From University of Utah Health Sciences, this is The Scope.

Interviewer: There's generally an uptick in parasite-related illnesses in the summertime and the question is where are they hanging out and what can you do to make sure one doesn't hop on board and try to get a free lunch from you? Kristen Case is from ARUP laboratories, which is one of the countries top labs that specialize in identifying parasites so doctors know how to treat them. Kristen, first of all, what makes an organism a parasite exactly?

Kristen: A parasite is an organism that has part of its life cycle eating or living off of another organism.

Interviewer: All right. So it doesn't have to live there all the time, just part of the time?

Kristen: Yeah, at least part of its life cycle. The word "parasite" actually has Latin and Greek bases. It means eating at another's table. "Para," meaning alongside and, "sitos," meaning food.

Interviewer: Oh, so I'm a table for this organism, essentially.

Kristen: Yes, you are its meal ticket.

Interviewer: All right. Why do you see a spike in the lab for parasites in the summertime? What causes that?

Kristen: Most of the time it's human behaviors changing. We're outside more. We're hiking. We're drinking from streams. We're swimming in pools, barbecuing, traveling, and all of those things just make it easier for a parasite to hop on board.

Interviewer: Sure. That's kind of where they're hanging out a little bit more. We are where they are more often in the summer time.

Kristen: Yes.

Interviewer: Got you. So I think you've already covered some of the common summer activities where you should be concerned about parasites, and it sounds like things we all do, swimming, camping, hiking, going to a barbecue, travel, and that sort of stuff. So let's talk about the different types of parasites you can get from those different scenarios, like swimming, for example. What's lurking in that pool water?

Kristen: The most common parasite that's associated with pools is a parasite called cryptosporidium.

Interviewer: I've heard of that one.

Kristen: Yes, so crypto, a lot of people say it like that as well. It forms . . . imagine a round ball and it forms this very thick encasing around itself. It's actually chlorine resistant so the chlorine in the pool won't kill this organism. Cryptosporidium can live in a chlorinated pool for up to 10 days. So if a person who's infected with this organism or this parasite swims in the pool and then some of the organism sheds into that pool water, it could be ingested by another human being and make them really sick.

Interviewer: Yeah, because normally at the pool it's the chlorine that kills. So what kills these things? How do I know I'm not going to get one at the pool?

Kristen: Actually, there are other treatments. So if we can get a little gross, when someone poops in the pool, they have to have everyone come out and there are some other water treatment solutions that they do to try and get rid of this organism.

Interviewer: Of course, from the news, I know good enough that if I have kids and they have had some sort of intestinal issues, diarrhea or whatever, keep them away from the pool for a couple of weeks.

Kristen: Yes. I'm glad that public service announcement is working.

Interviewer: No, I heard about that. All right. So is that really something that people should be freaked out about or just aware of?

Kristen: Be aware of it. It occurs in outbreaks usually. We'll have years and years of when it's not a problem. Then, when there is an outbreak situation, that's when we need to be aware. Like we were talking about earlier, there are public service announcements usually.

Interviewer: So awareness is really your best defense against that. If it's starting to happen again, maybe stay away from the pool for a little while until it goes away. How about camping and hiking? What parasites are out in nature?

Kristen: The most common parasite in Utah is probably giardia because it can be in fresh water sources, streams, rivers, lakes, and it has wild animal hosts like raccoons, possibly. If their stool gets into the water, it's contaminated.

Interviewer: I've heard deer.

Kirsten: I think so.

Interviewer: Same thing as well. What exactly is giardia going to do to me?

Kristen: Giardia will give you a lot of intestinal symptoms.

Interviewer: And why is that? What is it doing?

Kristen: Giardia attaches to your intestinal wall and does some damage while it's getting its meal from you.

Interviewer: To avoid giardia, is just making sure you don't drink stream water enough or using iodine pills?

Kristen: Yeah, if you avoid drinking stream water, don't let your dogs drink the stream water either. Filter your water, boil it.

Interviewer: What about going to a barbecue? There are parasites even there.

Kristen: Overall, the food in the United States if pretty safe, but it is a possibility to get a tapeworm from undercooked meat such as steak, beef, pork, and even fish. So if the meat has the tapeworm in it, if the animal has been infected by the tapeworm and we consume that meat undercooked or raw, then we could get a tapeworm.

Interviewer: All right. How often does that happen? How many tapeworms do you see?

Kristen: In the lab, we see at least a couple a month. A lot of times, the people could have some travel history outside the United States and sometimes they're here in the United States, no travel history really. The most common one we see is diphyllobothrium latum. That's the fish tapeworm so eating undercooked fish. So for the sushi lovers, make sure you're going to reputable sushi restaurants. They should be using really nice, parasite-free fish.

Interviewer: And check your meat when you go to that barbecue to make sure it's cooked properly.

Kristen: Yes.

Interviewer: And traveling to other countries is a way to pick up a parasite as well.

Kristen: If you travel to another country or even here in the United States, there is potential for picking up a parasite. For example, in the eastern United States, there are a lot more ticks than there are here in Utah and there are tick-borne diseases: Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, many other diseases that the tick could potentially carry and transmit to a human.

Interviewer: So far, this is the first parasite that lives on the outside of you that we've talked about.

Kristen: Yeah, it does take a blood meal from another animal and so that's why we consider it a parasite as well if that's part if it's lifecycle is getting that blood meal. In the process of getting that blood meal, it can transmit viruses, bacteria that make humans really sick.

Interviewer: All right. And what are my best defenses against that?

Kristen: When you're out in the wilderness, especially in really green, lush areas, make sure that you're wearing insect repellent with 20 to 30% DEET. That will kill the ticks.

Interviewer: It keeps another parasite away.

Kristen: Mosquito as well, yeah.

Interviewer: And long sleeve, I'd imagine. And tuck in your pants.

Kristen: Yeah, and tuck in your pants, whenever you can, into your socks.

Interviewer: Keep them on the outside of you, away from your skin.

Kristen: Whenever you do get home, shower as soon as you can. Check your body for ticks. If you're able to see a tick that's attached to you and remove it within 24 hours, the likelihood of it transmitting diseases to you is actually reduced.

Interviewer: Oh, really? So that's good. So check your hair and check your back. Check for those ticks.

Kristen: Yes.

Interviewer: Overall, you've given us some parasites that we are more likely to come in contact with in the summertime. I don't want to freak people out. Should they be freaked out?

Kristen: Well, at ARUP, we get to see a lot of interesting parasites because we're receiving specimens from all over the United States. Some of those people have a travel history outside of the United States. Some of them don't. So it is possible, but really, the likelihood is not that great. So, have fun. Use pools. Splash around. Enjoy your summer, but just know that there is some risk out there.

Interviewer: Yeah, just be cognizant that it is out there.

Kristen: Yes.
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