What is amebiasis?
Amebiasis is a disease caused by a one-celled parasite called Entamoeba histolytica.
Who is at risk for amebiasis?
Although anyone can have this disease, it is more common in people who live in tropical areas with poor sanitary conditions.
How can I become infected with E. histolytica?
E. histolytica infection can occur when a person:
What are the symptoms of amebiasis?
Only about 10% to 20% of people who are infected with E. histolytica become sick from the infection. The symptoms are often quite mild and can include loose feces (poop), stomach pain, and stomach cramping. Amebic dysentery is a severe form of amebiasis associated with stomach pain, bloody stools (poop), and fever. Rarely, E. histolytica invades the liver and forms an abscess (a collection of pus). In a small number of instances, it has been shown to spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs or brain, but this is very uncommon.
If I swallowed E. histolytica, how quickly would I become sick?
Only about 10% to 20% of people who are infected with E. histolytica become sick from the infection. Those people who do become sick usually develop symptoms within 2 to 4 weeks, though it can sometimes take longer.
What should I do if I think I have amebiasis?
See your health care provider.
How is amebiasis diagnosed?
Your health care provider will ask you to submit fecal (poop) samples. Because E. histolytica is not always found in every stool sample, you may be asked to submit several stool samples from several different days.
Diagnosis of amebiasis can be very difficult. One problem is that other parasites and cells can look very similar to E. histolytica when seen under a microscope. Therefore, sometimes people are told that they are infected with E. histolytica even though they are not. Entamoeba histolytica and another ameba, Entamoeba dispar, which is about 10 times more common, look the same when seen under a microscope. Unlike infection with E. histolytica, which sometimes makes people sick, infection with E. dispar does not make people sick and therefore does not need to be treated.
If you have been told that you are infected with E. histolytica but you are feeling fine, you might be infected with E. dispar instead. Unfortunately, most laboratories do not yet have the tests that can tell whether a person is infected with E. histolytica or with E. dispar. Until these tests become more widely available, it usually is best to assume that the parasite is E. histolytica.
A blood test is also available but is only recommended when your health care provider thinks that your infection may have spread beyond the intestine (gut) to some other organ of your body, such as the liver. However, this blood test may not be helpful in diagnosing your current illness because the test can be positive if you had amebiasis in the past, even if you are no longer infected now.
How is amebiasis treated?
Several antibiotics are available to treat amebiasis. Treatment must be prescribed by a physician. You will be treated with only one antibiotic if your E. histolytica infection has not made you sick. You probably will be treated with two antibiotics (first one and then the other) if your infection has made you sick.
What should I eat and drink there so I will NOT become infected with E. histolytica or other such germs?The following items are safe to drink:
Should I be concerned about spreading the infection to others?
Yes, but the risk of spreading infection is low if the infected person is treated with antibiotics and practices good personal hygiene. This includes thorough handwashing with soap and warm water after using the toilet, after changing diapers, and before handling food.