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Many different types of parasites can affect us in the aftermath of a man-made or natural disaster. For example, if we have a scenario of a large-scale disaster or the grid goes down, we will encounter yucky things that we usually wouldn’t, including parasites in humans.
Crowded living conditions, shared clothing or personal items, and poor hand hygiene is a recipe for trouble that makes me want to stay home and not be forced (by necessity) to live in a FEMA camp. Most of these parasites are widespread and highly communicable, even without a disaster. So having some medical preps to deal with them is just being smart.
In this article, I’ll tell you what the CDC and medical professionals recommend for treating various parasites. I’ll also share some alternatives if you don’t have access to (or want to use) those treatments.
Please remember that alternative medicine is still medicine and use it with care, especially if you are already taking other medications.
The two basic types of common parasites we may encounter are internal and external.
Common Internal Parasites: Their symptoms and treatment suggestions
Symptoms: Vague abdominal pain, weight loss, distended abdomen, or vomiting. While larvae migrate through the lungs, there may be fever, cough, wheezing, sub-sternal discomfort, and breathing difficulty.
Roundworms are found in soil, get on your hands, and can be ingested. They’re also found in food contaminated with human waste. Children are more likely to get these. Cover sandboxes when not in use and have your kids tell you if they see anything weird in their poop.
Treatment: Maintain good personal hygiene. Wash hands frequently and with good technique. Trim and clean nails. Use safe drinking water, sanitize it first if you must, and be sure to wash fruits and veggies in potable water. Avoid raw vegetables that you aren’t certain have been well-cleaned. Cooked food is safe.
Medications recommended by the CDC: Corticosteroids, Albendazole, & Mebendazole.
Symptoms: Initial rash at the site of infection, coughing, diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramps, fatigue, pale skin, shortness of breath (SOB), anemia, and nausea.
Because it is in the soil, walking barefoot in contaminated soil allows it to enter through the skin. It is spread where infected human feces is used as fertilizer. It enters the bloodstream, then the lungs, where it’s coughed up into the mouth, swallowed, and sent to the GI tract.
Treatment: Medications recommended by the CDC are Anthelmintic meds such as Albendazole & Mebendazole.
Symptoms: Can be asymptomatic or itching around the rectum (worse at night); severe scratching can result in a secondary infection. It may be seen with the naked eye a few hours after bedtime by shining a light or pressing a wide piece of tape against the site. Upon examination, they look like fine threads, less than an inch long.
Pinworm is spread from human to human in crowded living conditions. Animals do not carry pinworms.
Treatment: Good handwashing and launder all bedding, clothing, and toys every other day for three weeks. Medications recommended by the CDC are Albendazole (Albenza), Mebendazole (Vermox), and Pyrantel Pamoate. A single tab kills the worms. A second dose is required a few weeks later to kill any newly hatched eggs.
Symptoms: Sometimes asymptomatic, but may include nausea, weakness, diarrhea, abdominal pain, worm segments in a bowel movement, hunger or loss of appetite, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
WebMD states: “Tapeworms are flat, segmented worms that live in animals that have become infected while grazing or drinking contaminated water. Eating undercooked meat is the MAIN cause of infection in humans.”
Six major types of tapeworms come from beef, pork, and fish. The larvae live in the muscles of their host, and infection occurs when you ingest raw or undercooked meat. For example, you can get pork tapeworms from an infected PERSON who prepares food with dirty hands. Usually, tapeworms aren’t life-threatening, but on rare occasions may be.
Treatment: A blood test can identify the particular worm by the antibodies you produce. The type and length of treatment depend on the type of worm. The most common med prescribed is praziquantel (Biltricide). In addition, a stool sample is checked at one and three months for signs of eggs or worms.
The CDC recommends avoiding raw or undercooked meat, not just in an emergency.
Cook whole cuts of meat to at least 145 degrees and poultry to at least 165 degrees. Allow it to “rest” for 3 minutes before carving. Ground meat and wild game should be cooked to at least 160 degrees. The University of Minnesota Extension office recommends freezing meat to -4 degrees for four days to kill eggs.
TIP: A meat/candy thermometer might be a good addition to your preps since it’s impossible, otherwise, to know for certain the temperature of cooked food and heated water.
Cook fruits and vegetables or wash raw produce thoroughly. (I think an apple cider vinegar wash for several minutes would work well.)
Symptoms: According to Medicine.net, symptoms begin with abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, and nausea. A few days later, muscle ache begins, along with itching, fever, and chills. Two to eight weeks after ingestion, joint pain develops. There may be “splinter-like” hemorrhages under the fingernails. Eye inflammation occurs, too.
Trichinosis is a worm picked up by eating raw or undercooked pork from an infected animal. This parasite can pass through the intestinal wall and lodge in muscle tissue.
Treatment: Generally not needed, as most people recover without problems. Thiabendazole, Albendazole, Mebendazole, and Prednisone will be prescribed with more severe symptoms.
Symptoms: Bloating, bad breath and gas, dehydration, diarrhea, greasy floating stools, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, stomachache, weakness, and weight loss.
Giardia is a protozoan released by an infected person in a bowel movement. The feces contaminate food, water, or surfaces. You get infected by ingesting the microscopic cysts. They thrive in the small intestine, where they feed and multiply. Many animals can be infected, too: birds, cows, sheep, deer, dogs, and cats.
Treatment: The CDC recommends taking antimicrobial drugs such as Metronidazole, nitazoxanide (for kids), tinidazole, nitazoxanide, paromomycin, quinacrine, & furazolidone.
Common External Parasites in Humans
Symptoms: Intense itching, especially at night, and a pimple-like rash. It can cover the whole body, but common sites include the wrist, elbows, armpits, webbing between fingers, beltline, and “below the belt” – in short, areas where there are natural folds in your skin. Sometimes tiny “burrows” are visible under the skin.
Scabies is usually spread by direct, prolonged contact with an infected person. It spreads easily in crowded conditions and by sharing towels, bedding, or clothing. Scabies can be spread even before you have symptoms.
*PEOPLE WITH CRUSTED SCABIES ARE HIGHLY INFECTIOUS.
Treatment: Normally, it is diagnosed by viewing a skin scraping under a microscope, but it is usually based on appearance. A doctor prescribes a scabicide. There are no OTC meds at this time.
The NIH website recommends a “Permethrin” cream be applied from the neck down and left for 8-14 hours, then washed off. Next, a lotion is applied to freshly washed hair. Don’t use conditioner. (Do this over a sink, so none of the lotion gets on your body). Leave it on for ten minutes.
Wash all clothing, bedding, and personal items in the hottest water possible. Repeat as recommended. All household members with even one person with scabies should be treated to prevent further infestations.
The CDC website states never to use a scabicide for veterinary use to be used on humans because there haven’t been clinical tests on humans for veterinary meds. At least as importantly, animals don’t spread scabies, and the type of scabies mite that causes “mange” differs from the one that spreads among humans. The “mange” mite can’t survive or reproduce on humans. But, in a true emergency, Tractor Supply isn’t far.
Scabies can’t live longer than 2-3 days away from human skin. Wash contaminated clothing and bedding under the hottest wash and drying cycles. Bag any item that can’t be washed securely and remove it from body contact for at least 72 hours.
Vacuum carefully, and get rid of the bag outside. You don’t need to fumigate the whole house.
Symptoms: Sometimes, you can just see them, which can be itchy. Spread by direct contact or sharing scarves, hats, etc. Lice can only crawl and can’t hop, jump, or fly.
Treatment: OTC medication includes: Pyrethrins that kill lice but not nits; Permethrins that may kill eggs for several days but often need repeat treatment; Dimethicone silicone oil that smothers the bug; and Lindane shampoo (Kwell) that works well but can be toxic to the brain and nervous system. I wouldn’t want to use this on a young child.
A prescription drug called Ovide is made from tea tree oil and alcohol. Why not make it yourself? Tea tree oil can be put into coconut oil and spread through the hair. Other oils that help are thyme, lavender, anise, ylang-ylang, and geranium. I have heard of good results with NEEM oil (undiluted), and I would also “powder” my head with diatomaceous earth.
After all the lice are killed, you still have to go through all the hair under a good light and pick the nits out; otherwise, they will hatch. Check every few days to see if any new nits have hatched. As with scabies, wash all bedding in hot water and use the hot dryer cycle.
Symptoms: Larger than head lice. Spread the same way as head lice. There are intensely itchy, red bumps on the skin that can become red or darkened, especially near the waist or groin. This lice can spread disease. The bug is the size of a sesame seed and can be seen with the naked eye.
Treatment: Body lice medications called “Pediculicides” can be used but are generally not necessary. Just use good hygiene, laundering, and drying of clothes and bedding.
Symptoms: Pubic lice live in other areas with coarse hair, too. They can be in beards, armpit hair, or even eyebrows! It can be transmitted sexually and spread by infected towels or bedding. Itching is the main symptom.
Treatment: The OTC treatment is the same as for head lice. If items can’t be laundered, place them in a plastic bag for two weeks.
Or shave everything off.
Symptoms: Small oval bugs that feed off human blood, especially at night. Bed bugs cause a rash, a small, flat (or raised) bump on the skin. There is redness, swelling, and itching.
Bed bugs have made a resurgence due to immigration and travel. They can be found anywhere in the world and may hitch a ride home in your suitcase. In addition, crowded living quarters, including simply living in an apartment building, can spread the infestation.
Treatment: First, find the bugs. They love to hide in the seams of your mattress, box springs, bed frames, carpet edges, dresser drawers’ corners, curtains, wallpaper cracks, and wicker furniture. You may see blood from their droppings where they congregate.
Pest control companies are usually called in to eliminate them. Unfortunately, you often have to throw out the mattress because nobody can guarantee they have been totally eliminated.
There are over-the-counter insecticides to use, but once again, I’d recommend diatomaceous earth. You can sprinkle it in every crack, corner, and drawer, and on carpets and curtains. Here is a video showing how to make a bed bug trap. It was awesome. I made some with my friends.
You can buy a special mattress “bag” that prevents bed bugs from getting in. Also, wash and dry all the bedding and clothing. Then, vacuum and get rid of the bag! If you are carpet free, it’s much easier to clean up an infestation.
There isn’t a treatment for bedbug bites. Just shower and try not to scratch, preventing secondary infection. An antihistamine or Benadryl may help.
They are actually arthropods (spider-like). Ticks are most common in low, brushy areas from April to September but can be found year-round. Their population greatly increases after a mild winter. The bites can look as minor as a pink spot, or they can be red, inflamed, have a dark center, or have a bull’s-eye appearance.
There are two types of ticks: hard and soft. You usually don’t notice if a hard tick bites you, but the soft tick bite is excruciating. Both can spread disease, but it typically takes at least 36-48 hours for ticks to transmit diseases to their human hosts, although it can happen during removal if their body is squeezed, causing them to vomit into the host.
Use the highest amount of DEET in a repellent spray, or try some essential oil blends. Most essential oil brands sell a bug repellent blend, including oils such as citronella.
Occasionally, people get reactions from the tick’s saliva. It can cause the redness or swelling that is associated with the bite. Sometimes, a toxin is excreted along with the saliva. The one that catches everyone’s attention is the toxin that causes Lyme disease (a bacterial infection). Lyme is contracted from deer ticks, which can be as tiny as the head of a pin, making it extremely easy to not see when they are attached.
Common Lyme Symptoms
Common Lyme symptoms include a bulls-eye-shaped rash, followed by flu-like symptoms, numbness, confusion, weakness, joint pain and swelling, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and headaches. Unfortunately, the simple, short fact is that the symptoms can mimic many other diseases, and the one (bulls-eye rash) that is distinctive isn’t always present and may be missed, particularly if it is somewhere hidden, like on your scalp, under your hair.
If you are in an area with a high incidence of Lyme, be diligent about wearing tick-repelling products and protective clothing. Do regular tick checks if you go anywhere they might be, and keep tick-removal tools on hand. Make sure you know how to remove ticks safely. Then, if you start showing symptoms, go to the doctor promptly and tell them your concerns. Unfortunately, the current test for Lyme disease is highly unreliable (many false positives and many false negatives), so they will probably give you antibiotics even without a positive test.
Treatment: Oral antibiotics. The type prescribed depends on the stage of the disease. Early-stage meds are Doxycycline (Vibramycin), Amoxycillin, or Cefuroxime axetil (Ceftin). Doxycycline shouldn’t be used in pregnant women or kids under eight. Later stage meds include Ceftriaxone (Rocephin) and Penicillin G. Even when the bacteria are gone, long-term effects can last a lifetime.
Symptoms: Hives, itching, and rash. The rash has small bumps (often in sets of 3) that are intensely itchy, turn white when pressed, and may be in skin folds.
Fleas live outdoors and come in with our pets (or maybe ourselves).
Treatment: For Bites: 1% Hydrocortisone cream, an antihistamine (Benadryl), anything cool, like an ice pack, calamine lotion, eating garlic!!!, and vinegar in a compress. Tea tree oil, lemon oil, lavender, cedarwood, and eucalyptus oils all seem to be hated by fleas. (Reminder: Links to essential oils are at the end of this article.)
There’s also food-grade diatomaceous earth. Sprinkle that everywhere your pet sleeps or plays. You can rub it into their coats too! You can put it in their water bowl for internal bugs; read directions for amounts to use. All kinds of flea sprays, flea collars, topical medications are available, and pest control companies.
Not really a worm, but a fungus (Tinea). Highly contagious.
Symptoms: The classic sign is a patchy, crusty, circular ring, sometimes more clear in the middle. It can be on any part of the body. Depending on the body part, you can have discolored nails and lesions on the head with bald spots.
It is spread by touching or coming into contact with an infected person or animal. Cats are common carriers. To prevent athlete’s foot (a form of Tinea), don’t walk barefoot through shared floors at gyms or pools. Wash recently purchased clothes before wearing them, and don’t share brushes or combs.
Treatments: Over-the-counter antifungal meds like clotrimazole (Lotrimin), Miconazole, or Tolnaftate (Tinactin). There are creams, lotions, and powders. Apply twice daily for four weeks. Essential oils to treat ringworm include oregano, rosemary, and thyme in sweet almond carrier oil. Cedarwood oil and lemon oil have been reported to have good results. Tea tree oil can also be used to fight athlete’s foot.
Alternative Therapies for Internal Parasites
Essential oils that some people believe are effective in reducing or eliminating parasites include:
- Oregano, Thyme, Fennel, Roman Chamomile, Clove, Melaleuca (Tea Tree), Lavender, Bergamot, and Peppermint. Take in a capsule or with a beverage. (When I occasionally ingest an EO, I just put a drop or two in a large glass of water.)
- Try a warm compress of a washcloth, dampened with hot water, and a few drops of your choice of essential oil. Another option is to apply the oil directly to the abdomen or bottoms of the feet. This information is from pages 285-286, “Modern Essentials.” (A DoTerra Oils Guide)
- Dr. Josh Axe recommends a blend of black walnut, olive leaf, wormwood, and garlic to fight parasites. This combination comes in a bottle with all the above ingredients. Take daily for two weeks, stop for a week, and start again for two weeks. This allows for the eggs that hatch to be killed.
- Pumpkin Seeds: Blend 200 grams of raw pumpkin seeds in a blender with a cup of yogurt (with live cultures) into a smooth paste. Eat it in the morning on an empty stomach. The chemical compound in the seeds is called “cucurbits,” and it paralyzes the worms. An hour later, take a laxative. The worms can’t hold onto the intestinal walls and are eliminated outside the body. Drink water to help flush out the worms.
- Essential oils for eliminating ringworm include: Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree), Oregano, Thyme, Cinnamon, Clove, Arborvitae, “Protective Blend,” Lavender, Peppermint, Rosemary, Lemon, “Cleansing Blend,” Patchouli, Lemongrass, Juniper berry, and Geranium. In addition, Cypress was mentioned specifically for athletes’ foot, as is Tea Tree.
- For yeast infections of the mouth (thrush): Eat yogurt and take acidophilus pills.
- Colloidal silver has been claimed to kill parasites.
- Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth: Take a teaspoon mixed in water and drink it. It is made from the skeletons of tiny Diatoms. Although perfectly safe for us, it’s like ground glass to parasites. It slices and dices its exoskeleton. This is an effective therapy for external parasites, as well.
Alternative Therapies for Parasites in Humans: Resources
Many of these are essential oils (EO), most of which are not regulated as medicine by the FDA. Before using any EO, read the instructions carefully. Some can be ingested without problems, and a small number may be poisonous if taken internally and are strictly for external use. Most are only used in tiny amounts, often not more than a literal drop or two.
When you buy any EO, please check to ensure the quality, and don’t just buy the cheapest (or necessarily, the most expensive) one available.
To further research treatment for parasitic infections, here is a list of scientific articles; each includes a brief overview of each article/study.
Reader Tips for Treating Parasites in Humans
- Reader Tip from J: “Back in the day, they ironed EVERYTHING — even underwear and sheets — not to take the wrinkles out, but to kill the fly eggs that flies lay on wet clothes hanging on the line…and yes, humans can get them – there are flies that like healthy flesh – totally gross, but do you want a maggot coming out of your skin?!” (Nope to that, for sure! The Survival Mom says: That’s a great survival tip to keep in mind and a reason to buy one of those old, antique irons that you heat up over a hot stove or fire.)
- Reader Tip from David Mcclellan: “Years ago, when living in Hawaii, I had ringworm on my arm. Our Naturopath recommended a slice of fresh garlic because it is antifungal. I taped it on with a bandaid, and the ringworm was gone within a couple of days.”
- Reader Tip from Grace Gniazdowska: “I picked up lice at summer camp as a child; my mom was going to chop off my beautiful (below my but) long hair. My grandma wrapped my head in white vinegar in a towel for three days straight, then sat with my mom with one of those tiny combs and got even the eggs– all dried up, out of my hair. They all suffocated, I had to sleep in it too, but my grandma’s advice saved my long hair. Saturate the hair in white vinegar and wrap it around the head. Leave for three days, do not unwrap for anything. As for any itching from parasites, even mosquitoes and no see-ums, thyme, or oregano essential oil will diffuse the itchy irritation and dis-infect it.”
Parasites in humans can cause illnesses and other health problems. In a disaster or when SHTF, you’ll be glad you know how to identify and treat common parasites using either traditional or alternative options.
This is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any disease. Consult your personal medical professional.
Updated; originally published July 31, 2015.
Mary is a graduate from Purdue University with an Associates in Applied Science. Her work experiences in Nursing have included surgery, dialysis, prison and drug rehab nursing.