Parasites and Travel: What Parasites Taught Me

  • Luke Armstrong
Jun 15, 2017

"Die parasites!" my French Canadian roommate says as she downs a potent shot of powdered grapefruit seed extract and aqua.

She's on the natural route for treating parasites—one effective, but a difficult road. It takes commitment and drastic diet change for weeks. She has giardia.

I have amoebas and I'm on antibiotics. I probably had amoebas for a few months. Things had been just a touch off digestively speaking.

Gut health affects our mood, sleep patterns, and stress levels. As I desired to be jolly, well-rested, and stress free as a bumble bee, I opted for Metronidazole twice a day for diez días to treat my Entamoeba hystolica, a Latin name that means colony of jerks. 

Local Parasites

I don't know anyone who has spent significant time around Lake Atitlan in Guatemala without ever getting a case of parasites. As horrible as that sounds, there are a lot of places and destinations where parasites are simply part of life. 90% of people will deal with parasites at some point in their life. 

Just like there's a cold and flu season up in the north lands where I'm from, down here in Central America there is a parasite season. Everyone says that May and June are the worst.

Know thy parasitic enemies: What You Should Know About Parasites

There is a lot of misinformation about parasites. In some well-meaning circles, it's not uncommon for people to brush off another's parasites but simply saying, "You're just detoxing."

Detoxing with a little help from my friends. . . I'm no expert on tropical parasitic disease, but I do take them seriously. I've been listening to everyone who has anything to say about parasites, talking to doctors and nurses, and putting this up against the mess of stuff online.

Know thy parasitic enemies. Learn as much as you can about parasites in the areas you travel to.

Patient Advocate Those Parasites 

At home, like abroad, it's important to be your own patient advocate. Doctors make mistakes, and misdiagnosis. They can recommend the wrong medicine. Lab results are not 100%. In a foreign country, when you are sick and weak, it's possible to feel overwhelmed, so it's important to feel capable when navigating a foreign country’s medical system.

Do the Locals Have The Same Parasite Problems as Travelers?

"Do you guys have the same problems with parasites?" I asked my Mayan Katchequel teacher

"No," she says, "Our stomachs our strong. As soon as we detect signs of parasites we vomit to rid ourselves of them." That and they chew a lot of papaya leafs, which might be a great preventative measure and treatment method for parasites among treating other illnesses.

A Quick Guide to Prevent Parasites When Traveling or Living Abroad

Create a Safe Container To Guard Against Parasites 

To understand the preventative measures, it's important to understand where parasites are coming from.

Where are Parasites Coming From?

Parasites can enter your body through contaminated food and water, undercooked meat, contaminated water in underdeveloped countries' lakes, ponds, and river. Also unclean or contaminated fruits and vegetables can harbor parasites. Some parasites can even enter the body by traveling through the bottom of your foot, so wear shoes!

Here at Lake Atitlan, I tightened my container by deciding not to swim anymore. Yes, it breaks my heart, but does make my gut sing songs of gratitude.

How to Create a Closed Container Between You and Parasites

Avoiding parasites can seem like a full time job, because it is. It involves adopting practices that might seem a bit extreme. But after several uncompelling bouts with parasites, one becomes open to taking such measures.

Here are five ways I am planning to stay parasite free after parasite cleanse.

1. Prevent Parasites by Being a Meal Miser

"Hey, try this," Someone might say at a hostel, party, or other gathering of people. They might push a nacho towards you with their homemade guacamole.

Who wants to be the guy or gal in this situation who says, "Did you wash your hands when you made it?"

So, this measure might put you in a meal bubble, where all the culinary offers of the un-vetted food world become off limits. But you can take this extreme as far as you feel you should.

That bowl of bean dip that seven people are double dipping in—do you really want to participate in a place where parasites are going around? This is between you and your gut.

2. Make Sure Your Water Isn't a Source of Parasites

If it's known not to drink the tap water in a place, don't brush your teeth it. Don't wash your eyes in it. Use filtered water for this.

There are some great products on the market from a number of companies that help out a safe container around water—Lifestraw being a popular water bottle filter unit.

If you boil water to rid it of parasites, be sure to keep it boiling for at least 15 minutes.

It also means not swimming in suspect bodies of water. How do you know? Ask around, google your questions and see what the Internet it saying.

3. Keep Antiparasitics Around Your Plate

There are a lot of foods, teas, and supplements they help keep parasites away and a my bay. Find out which ones tingle your taste and keep them around your plate, cup, and life.

To name a few to think about there are garlic, red onion, coconut oil, pumpkin seeds, kefir, kombucha, fermented vegetables, apple cider vinegar, aloe vera, black walnut, cloves, barberry, goldenseal, pau d'arco tea, sangre de drago, oregano oil, wormwood, rosemary and thyme.

And don't ever take something from a list. Research the dosage and contraindications of any new supplement and speak to your health care providers.

Avoiding sugar and cutting back on alcohol help create unwelcoming conditions for parasites.

4. Avoid Parasites by Watching the Skies

Scary but true, parasites have air power and use flies as vectors to propagate. Studies have shown that giardia can be spread this way. It doesn't mean every fly that lands on your load is carrying a parasite, just that parasites are capable of moving this way. So take adequate precautions against flies and don't leave food out in the open.

5. Think Before You Open Your Mouth

There is that foot parasite. But most parasites have to travel through your throat before they infect you. So keep your hands washed. Especially after handling money. Hand sanitizer is your best friend and parasites’ worst enemy.

Finally. . .Be Not Afraid

Parasites happen. I talk to a lot of travelers about parasites because parasites are on a lot of symptomatic people's minds. Most listen and lodge my advice with the rest of their learnings. But a few people go pale and frown like they are sitting on a snow crab. They give into the fear. Don't give into the fear. Parasites are easy to identify and treat.

Just take adequate precautions. Insure and inform yourself, get checked if you have symptoms, and create as parasite-free container as you can. 

About the Author

luke armstrong

Luke Maguire Armstrong is the author of "The Nomad's Nomad." He has spent the last decade traveling, writing and designing, and funding philanthropic programs around the world.

Read more of Luke’s blogs Visit Luke's website

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