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Intestinal Parasites

Intestinal Parasites at a Glance

  • An infection of the intestines
  • Often has no symptoms
  • Treatment is available
  • Can be spread during sex play
  • There are ways to reduce your risk of infection

We all want to protect ourselves and each other from infections like intestinal parasites. Learning more about intestinal parasites is an important first step.

Here are some of the most common questions we hear people ask about intestinal parasites. We hope you find the answers helpful, whether you think you may have intestinal parasites, have been diagnosed with them, or are just curious about them.

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    What Are Intestinal Parasites?

    You may have heard of intestinal parasites, but many people are not sure what they are. Intestinal parasites are microscopic, one-cell animals called protozoa. They infect the intestines.

    Intestinal parasites are often transmitted by contaminated food and water and during nonsexual, intimate contact. They may also be transmitted sexually. They are most common in places with poor hygiene and sanitation.

    Millions of Americans have intestinal parasites. For people with weakened immune systems, such as people with HIV, intestinal parasites can be very serious — even life threatening.

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    What Are the Symptoms of Intestinal Parasites?

    Often there are no intestinal parasites symptoms. When there are symptoms, they may include

    • diarrhea, which may become severe and chronic
    • abdominal pain
    • bloating
    • nausea, vomiting
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    How Can I Know If I Have Intestinal Parasites?

    A health care provider can do tests to see if you have intestinal parasites, even if you do not have intestinal parasites symptoms. Your health care provider will examine your stool (feces). Other tests are sometimes needed, such as proctoscopy — a test that involves a health care provider inserting a thin tube that has a light into the rectum.

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    Is There a Treatment for Intestinal Parasites?

    Yes, medicines are available for treatment. Pregnant women cannot take some of them. And treatments may not be as effective for people with weakened immune systems.

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    Where Can I Get a Test or Treatment for Intestinal Parasites?

     Staff at your local Planned Parenthood health center, many other clinics, health departments, and private health care providers can diagnose intestinal parasites and help you get any treatment you may need.
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    How Are Intestinal Parasites Spread?

    Intestinal parasites are spread when fecal matter — bits of feces — gets into the mouth. This can happen through

    • contaminated food or water
    • oral and anal sex play, or nonsexual intimate contact, such as diaper changing
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    How Can I Prevent Getting or Spreading Intestinal Parasites?

    There are a few things you can do to prevent getting intestinal parasites:

    • Observe strict rules of day-to-day hygiene, like careful hand washing.
    • Use a Sheer Glyde dam, dental dam, or piece of plastic wrap during oral/anal sex play.

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