Healthy Cane

Spring break brings relaxation and partying, but may also bring things that go bump in the night – specifically parasites.

Many parts of Central and South America and Africa are home to these unpleasant little critters that can infect and live inside the body. Now before canceling any trips, here are some tips to avoid those unwanted spring break guests.

Amoebas are at the forefront of parasites to be aware of, and they can be in any water – tap water, shower water, drinking water – excluding the ocean. The best way to avoid them is to drink bottled water and ask whether ice is made with bottled or tap water.

Symptoms of amoeba infestation include bloody diarrhea, watery diarrhea, constipation then diarrhea, and pain in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen. Longer infection periods can lead to liver abscesses or an infection in the central nervous system, resulting in seizures, headaches, fever, dementia, coma and eventually death. So, the point is: Tap water in foreign countries is bad.

Another parasite to avoid is the leishmania, which is caused by sand fly bites – a bug common to Central and South America. To avoid the sand fly, do not wear dark colors (it attracts the flies), take vitamin B supplements and use bug repellant. If bitten, victims may suffer a crusty, but painless lesion that grows and scars over a period of months or years, leaving a large pockmark.

Traveling a little farther to Africa, visitors can contract Chagas’ disease, aka African sleeping disease, which comes from the Trypanosoma cruzi – the kissing bug. The kissing bug actually looks similar to a stink bug and infects victims by pooping on them. Bed nets and screen doors can provide barriers to this bug, but once infected victims will experience lymph node and eye swelling, weakening of the heart’s walls and constipation. Eye swelling can occur within a week of infection, but the other symptoms may develop over years.

Although amoebas and leishmania may seem uncommon, everyone’s heard of the next disease carrying critter: mosquitoes. Mosquitoes carry malaria, which causes coughing, fatigue, shaking, headaches, joint pain and high fever among other symptoms. However, there are ways to avoid this “mal air,” such as bug spray and anti-malarial pills, said Dr. Abra Ager, research association professor in the departments of immunology and microbiology. The pills, usually called Doxycyclin, which also treats acne, can be prescribed by any doctor a couple days before traveling.

So to recap: Avoid tap water, bring bug spray and don’t be afraid to splurge on health and safety precautions.

Ashleyann Gosselin may be contacted at