Parasite Prevention – Food & Environment
Nancy Mehlert, MS
Parasitic infections are probably under-diagnosed because most doctor’s don’t consider them to be a likelihood in the United States. They may be more common than we realize and should be considered as a root cause when chronic illness cannot be explained otherwise (see the main article).
In the meantime, no one wants a parasitic infection and there are things we can do to avoid them.
Many parasites can be transmitted in foods including protozoa and helminths (roundworms and tapeworms). The most common food sources to be aware of include:
- Undercooked fish, crabs, and mollusks, including sushi
- Undercooked meat, especially pork
- Raw aquatic plants, such as watercress
- Raw vegetables that have been contaminated by human or animal feces (even USDA Organic Standards allow animal waste)
- Foods contaminated as a result of food service workers who practice poor hygiene or work in unsanitary facilities
Action steps in the kitchen include making sure to cook fish and meat thoroughly and carefully. Also consider if eating sushi is worth the risk. Wash produce well before use. Visit reputable restaurants with good sanitation practices.
Many parasites are also transmitted by water, soil, or person to person contact. Here are several more action steps you can take to protect yourself from parasitic infection:
- Wash your hands regularly, especially after handling uncooked food or feces.
- Drink clean water, including bottled water when traveling, especially in tropical, subtropical, or under-developed countries.
- Avoid swallowing water from lakes, streams, or ponds.
- Avoid cat litter and feces, especially if pregnant. Outdoor cats can come into contact with infected rodents and birds, which makes owners more likely to contract toxoplasmosis, a type of protozoa.
Be informed, be safe, be well.