A parasite is an organism that lives off of or inside of another organism, called a host, during all or part of its life. This is a type of symbiotic relationship in which the parasite needs the host in order to live. The parasite obtains nourishment and/or protection from its host. A parasite may or may not harm the host, but the host never benefits from the parasite. Many organisms, including some plants, animals, spiders, crustaceans, bacteria, and worms, are considered parasites.
Many parasites can enter the human body and cause parasitic infections. Parasites may enter the body through openings in the body, including the skin and mouth. Each type of parasite affects the human body differently. Some feed on humans cells (such as red blood cells), while others live in the intestines and absorb nutrients from food that is consumed by the host. Parasites can cause many life-threatening complications, including anemia, malnutrition, blindness, and organ and tissue damage.
Among the most common types of parasites to affect humans are single-celled organisms called protozoans, worm-like organisms, fungi, and mites. These organisms are most likely to cause diseases such as ascariasis, chiggers, giardiasis, guinea worm disease, histoplasmosis, hookworm infection, leishmaniasis, lymphatic filariasis, malaria, ringworm infection, scabies, tapeworm infection, river blindness, threadworm infection, trichinosis and whipworm infection. Parasites are responsible for the most deaths in tropical and subtropical regions of the world.
Although parasitic infections can cause permanent tissue and organ damage, most patients experience a complete recovery if they are diagnosed and treated quickly. Parasitic infections are treated with medications, called anti-parasitics. These medications, which may be taken by mouth, applied to the skin, or injected into a vein, kill the parasite.
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