Parasites have a nasty reputation – but is
really fair to fear these little guys? Well, yes – and if you don’t think so, here’s why
these terrifying creatures are worth avoiding at all costs! As if you need another reason to hate mosquitoes
– when they bite humans they can leave larvae of the parasitic Filarial Worm. These worms
live and grow in our bodies, sometimes taking years to mature into full adults, leaving
only inconspicuous rashes and sores. Years later, they work together to block the vessels
of your lymphatic system, creating a build-up of fluid and leading to diseases like elephantiasis.
This is one of the leading causes of disability in the world. Another worm worth hating is the pinworm.
Pinworm eggs are often eaten because of contaminated or dirty hands. The eggs hatch and mature
in your gut, at which point the adult female exits the anus to lay a new batch of eggs
on the surrounding skin. Your butthole becomes a nest! This causes intense itching, often
leading to re-contaminated hands or fingernails, which can end up in your mouth again, restarting
the cycle. Feel like scratching your bum? Do yourself a favour and wash those hands
and fingernails! On the other side of the body, live the lovely
pubic lice – sometimes called ‘crabs’. Though it’s not uncommon to find these buggers in
your eyebrows, beard or even eyelashes. The itching is from an allergic reaction to their
saliva, and it’ll take treatment with medication or shaving it all off to get rid of them.
Of course, abstinence or no sex works well as a preventative measure, along with not
sharing your undies with other people. Some parasites are meant for marine animals,
but end up in humans out of the goodness of our…gut? The Anisakis Nematode infects humans
after eating raw or undercooked fish – like sushi – which contains the larvae. The worms
penetrate our gut wall and cause abdominal pain, nausea and even vomiting. But, nobody
really wins this one, as the nematode can’t mature in a human gut and eventually dies. The Tongue Biter is another marine parasite.
This tongue eating louse finds a suitable fish and chews off it’s tongue, only to cling
on to the stub in it’s place. Here they stay feeding on the fishes blood, all the while
mating and dispersing their progeny into the ocean. And finally, the wonderful cordyceps which
are fungi known for creating zombie ants. The fungus takes over the ants body and mind,
making it leave the colony and begin climbing upward to a more ideal temperature and humidity.
The ant then bites onto a stem or leaf and gets locked into position until it dies. At
which point, the fungus bursts through the ants head and spreads outward. Could such a parasite ever affect humans?
For everyone’s sake, we hope not! Our friends at James Cook University helped
us put this horrifying list of parasites together, with special help from parasitologist Dr Kate
Hutson. JCU is one of the world’s leading institutions focusing on the tropics with
an opportunity to study in a diverse physical environment unparalleled by any university
in the world. I actually studied there for a semester abroad! If you want to learn more,
be sure to head over to their website jcu.edu.au – link in the description! You can check out
the amazing Dr Kate Hutson as well at marineparasites.com. And subscribe for more weekly science videos!