Human parasites

Hundreds of parasites make their homes in or on us. Many have little effect but some have damaging impact.

Parasites invade us by:

  • simply hitching a ride (e.g. head lice, ticks)
  • being ingested (e.g. Giardia, intestinal worms, Hydatid disease) 
  • being injected by insects (e.g. malaria) 
  • penetrating the skin (e.g. dog hookworm).

Globally it is estimated that about two billion people are infected with parasites. We now travel more than ever before and come into contact with parasites we would normally not find in our own country. Parasites themselves are evolving and some becoming resistant to drugs so the problem of human parasitic disease is growing.

Australia

In Australia, parasite problems are largely known and most can be controlled as we have benefitted greatly from advances in technology and scientific and medical research. 

One of our main lines of defence against human parasites lies in the high quality of our hygiene systems. Clean and safe drinking water and treatment of sewerage are key essentials in limiting human infection in this country.

It is likely that changing climate will cause changes in the distribution of parasites already known from Australia and may result in the introduction to Australia of parasitic diseases we have never seen before in this country. Nonetheless, we benefit through the isolation provided by being an island continent with a strong border protection policy driven by quarantine.

While Australia is free from many serious human parasitic diseases there are some parasites that we often encounter and are forced to deal with:

Overseas

Overseas travel is now more accessible than it has ever been before.  However, nothing spoils an overseas holiday more than being ill, so we need to remain aware of the risks of becoming infected with parasitic diseases and especially those that we would normally not encounter in this country.

The Australian government provides travel health advice for Australians travelling overseas and specialist medical practitioners offer advice and preventative treatment.

For more information visit Smartraveller.

Queensland Museum's Find out about... is proudly supported by the Thyne Reid Foundation and the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation.