Parasitic infections can come from water, food, sexual contact, and insect bites.
There are many different types of parasitic infections. This includes infections that can affect your lungs and respiratory symptoms. Parasites that make their way to your lungs can grow and reproduce in your lungs, making it difficult for you to breathe normally.
In mild cases, you might be able to fight the infection off at home. However, many parasitic infections require medical treatment and the use of prescription medications that can kill the parasites and their eggs.
There are several different parasites that can impact your lungs.
In the United States, a parasite called paragonimiasis is the most common. This parasite can enter your body when you eat undercooked crabs and crawfish. The parasites are not contagious and take about 6 to 10 weeks to develop in your lungs and cause symptoms after you consume them.
Ascariasis is another parasite that can infect your lungs. This infection is common around the world but is rare in the United States. Ascariasis is a type of roundworm. They’re generally found in dirt and soil, and humans can get the parasite from undercooked meat and unwashed vegetables.
Young children sometimes get ascariasis after putting their hands in their mouths while playing outdoors. Ascariasis is most common in areas of the world with hot temperatures and limited access to sanitation.
Bilharzia is a parasite that is found in freshwater. Humans often encounter this parasite while swimming or boating. It can impact your lungs, liver, spleen, bladder, brain, and other organ systems.
The parasite has been found in Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, South America, and parts of the Caribbean. However, it has not occurred anywhere in North America.
Pulmonary strongyloidiasis is a rare parasitic lung infection that causes a type of type pneumonia called parasitic-necrotizing pneumonia. This type of pneumonia is normally found in areas of the world with high levels of parasitic infections, and it primarily impacts people who have weakened immune systems.
However, there have been rare cases reported in people who don’t live in, and haven’t visited, high-risk areas, and who don’t have weakened immune systems.
Researchers are still studying the connection between COVID-19 and parasitic infections. COVID-19 is still new, and we still need more information about many topics. However, medical professionals have noticed a few possible connections between parasitic lung infections and COVID-19. These include:
- Some parasitic lung infections might increase your risk of developing COVID-19.
- Some parasitic infections might offer some protection from COVID-19.
- Control measures for COVID-19 could reduce the number of parasitic infections for parasites that spread via human contact.
- Control measures for COVID-19 could increase the number of parasitic infections for parasites that thrive in hot environments and close quarters.
- Cortisol medication taken to treat parasitic infections could weaken your immune system and increase your risk of COVID-19.
The exact symptoms will depend on the type of parasite, the severity of your infection, and your immune system. For example, ascariasis often causes no symptoms until an infected person coughs up the worms or notices them in their bowel movements.
Symptoms of paragonimus include:
- stomach pain
- dry cough
- chest pain
- coughing up pink or red phlegm
Lung symptoms of ascariasis include:
- persistent cough
- shortness of breath
- coughing up worms after about 2 weeks of symptoms
Symptoms of bilharzia include:
- all over body aches
- a rash
- difficulty breathing
Your appointment to diagnose a parasitic respiratory infection will include a physical exam and discussion of your symptoms. Your doctor will likely then order a sample of your stool or phlegm.
The sample will be tested for evidence of parasites such as worms or worm eggs. In some cases, you might have imaging tests such as X-rays done to see if there has been any damage in your lungs or respiratory system.
Treatment of parasitic infections normally involves a course of prescription medication that can kill the parasites and their eggs. You might also receive medication to help manage any pain or other symptoms you’re having. Medications that can kill parasites and stop infections include:
Parasitic infections are generally associated with stomach and skin conditions, but there are parasitic conditions that can affect your lungs.
In the United States, the most common way to get a parasitic lung infection is by eating raw or undercooked crab and crawfish. This can lead to an infection called paragonimus.
Other parasitic lung infections are rare in the United States but include ascariasis, bilharzia, and parasitic-necrotizing pneumonia.
Parasitic infections are treated with medications that kill the parasites and their eggs so that your body can recover. Treatment can often resolve infections and their symptoms very quickly.