What is amoebiasis?

Amoebiasis (also known as amoebic dysentery) is an infection of the large intestine, sometimes involving the liver. The best-known symptom of the disease is diarrhea.

Those who live in unsanitary conditions have an increased incidence of amoebaisis. Travelers to counties with poor sanitation are at greater risk of contracting the disease, as are people who engage in a combination of oral and anal sexual activities. It can affect those of either sex and of any age.

What causes amoebiasis?

The infection is by a parasite called “Entamoeba histolytica.” This amoeba has two forms. In its disease-causing, parasitic form (Trophozoite) it is mobile and lives in the colon where it feeds on bacteria or tissue. If diarrhea occurs, this form is washed out of the colon and soon dies.

To move from one host to another the amoeba becomes a cyst (an egg-like inactive form) that is passed in the stool. The cyst can exit outside the body and are spread to spread to other hosts by flies, cockroaches, or direct contact with hands or foods contaminated by faeces.

Faulty pluming and poor sanitation also contribute to the spread of amarbiasis. The disease can also be contacted by eating raw vegetables or fruits which have been washed in contaminated water or fertilized with human faeces.

Many people, especially those who live in warm or temperate climates, may harbour the amoeba in their bodies without symptoms. Illness occurs only when the parasite invade the tissues of the colon. Even then, symptoms may be so vague that the person is unaware of the infection. In some development countries up to 50% of population may be carriers.

What are the symptoms of amoebiasis?

r Intermittent diarrhea with foul-smelling stool may be preceded by constipation.

r Mucus and blood in the stool.

r Gas and Abdominal Bloating

r Abdominal cramps and tenderness

r Fever

r Fatigue.

If the liver is involved, symptoms may include:

r Tenderness over the liver (in the upper right side of the abdomen).

How is amoebiasis diagnosed and treated?

Diagnosis requires laboratory studies of stool and blood samples. In some cases, direct examination of the sigmoid colon (last section of the large intestine before the rectum) will be necessary. This is called sigmoidoscopy and is done with a flexible, lighted viewing tube. A biopsy (a tissue sample taken for laboratory analysis) may also be needed.

In addition, a barium x-ray may be performed. Here, x-rays are taken of the abdomen following an enema with a solution of barium, a substance which is opaque to x-rays and so makes the shape of the colon visible on film.

Treatment involves taking drugs to kill the parasites, usually the antibioyic Metronidazole. Bed rest and drinking a rehydration solution (containing salt and glucose to replace losses from the diarrhea) may also be necessary. Complicated cases may require hospitalization. If dehydration is severe, an intravenous drip may be required. After treatment, regular stool tests will be taken to ensure that the parasite is completely eradicated, as amoebiasis has a tendency to recur at intervals.

What can I do to avoid amoebiasis?

Wash your hands with soap after going to the toilet as well as before preparing and eating food.

When traveling in countries with poor sanitation. Do not eat unpeeled fruit and vegetables, or shellfish and raw fish.

Consume only canned drinks, or bottled water, or boil all drinking water for five minutes. Avoid ice in drinks. If possible check that bottled drinks have not been opened (they may have been watered down.) Note that chlorine –releasing water sterilization tablets are not very effective at destroying amoebae.

If the water supply is exposed to raw sewage do not use it for any purpose including bathing.

When should I see my doctor?

Consult your doctor if you have any symptoms of amoebiasis, particularly if you have been traveling in an area with poor sanitary conditions.

Medical attentions is particularly important if you have abdominal cramps that last for more than 24 hours, or symptoms of possible amoebic invasion of the liver. These include nausea, and swelling tenderness or pain in the area around the liver and rarely jaundice (a yellowing of skin and whites of the eyes.)

What will the doctor do?

The doctor will ask question about recent travel, sexual practices and other possible sources of infection. The abdomen will be carefully examined, with attention to the liver. Blood and stool samples may be sent to the laboratory for analysis further tests may be carried out in an patient clinic.

What can I do myself?

All those sharing a house with any one who is suffering from the disease should be very careful with hygiene. All surfaces in the toilet should be kept scrupulously clean and disinfected. Hands must be washed carefully with hot water and soap after each bowel movement and before handling food.

Anyone with the disease should drink plenty of clear fluids to prevent dehydration due to diarrhea.

Is amoebiasis dangerous?

Anoebiasis can be life threatening if complications develop. These may include peritonitis inflammation of the lining of the abdominal cavity and liver, lung, or brain abscesses.

However complications are not common if treatment begins promptly, and most cases can be cured within three weeks.

For further information, treatment and training in massage therapy, do no hesitate to contact Nevis Holistic Massage Centre, at Farms Estate, Charlestown, Nevis. Telephone 469-5464