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Amebiasis

What is amebiasis? Amebiasis (pronounced am-e-BY-a-sis) is an illness caused by a parasite called Entamoeba histolytica. This parasite is found across Canada and throughout the world.

 

 
  • Front page of Amebiasis fact sheetAmebiasis Fact Sheet (PDF 76KB)
    View, download and print the Amebiasis Fact Sheet. 
    Amebiasis is an illness caused by a parasite called Entamoeba histolytica. This parasite is found across Canada and throughout the world.
 

Contact Us

For more information, please contact the Infectious Disease Control Team:

  • 519-663-5317 Ext. 2330
 

What are the symptoms of amebiasis?

Most people who are infected with this parasite do not have symptoms or are only mildly sick. The symptoms may include chills, fever, cramps, diarrhea or constipation. The symptoms last about three weeks.

Symptoms usually appear 2-4 weeks from the time of swallowing the parasite. Sometimes people will get sick a few days to several months after their exposure. A person may pass the infection to others even if they are not sick with symptoms. They may continue to pass the infection in their stool for several months.

Amebic dysentery is a severe form of amebiasis that can cause stomach pain, bloody diarrhea and fever.

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How do I get infected with amebiasis?

The parasite is spread person to person by the fecal-oral route. This means the parasite is found in the form of a cyst in the stool of an infected person. If another person swallows the cysts, they can get infected.

This can happen in a variety of ways:

  • Drinking contaminated water, especially in countries with poor sanitation.
  • Swallowing contaminated water, which may be found in swimming pools, lakes, rivers or streams.
  • Eating contaminated food. Food can become contaminated if it is prepared by an infected person who did not wash their hands properly after using the bathroom. Fruits and vegetables can become contaminated if fertilized with water containing human waste.
  • Touching contaminated surfaces and then putting your fingers in your mouth.
  • Sexual transmission can also happen through oral-anal sex.

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Am I at risk?

Anyone can get amebiasis, but it is more common in people who live in or travel to countries with poor sanitary conditions. It is usually found in young adults. Children under the age of five rarely get this infection. About 1 in 10 of the world's population is infected with this parasite.

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What is the treatment for amebiasis?

There are prescription drugs available to treat amebiasis. See your doctor if you think you may have this infection. It is diagnosed with a stool test.

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How can I prevent amebiasis?

Proper Hand Washing

Washing hands often and well is the best prevention.

  • Wash hands immediately after touching raw meat, poultry and raw produce.
  • Make sure you wash your hands with soap and water after using the toilet, changing diapers and before preparing and eating food.

Safe Food Handling

  • Wash and peel all fruits and vegetables before eating. Disinfectant washes for fruits and vegetables have not been proven to prevent the spread of this parasite. When travelling in developing countries, only eat raw fruits or vegetables you have peeled or sliced yourself.
  • Always eat shellfish cooked.

Drink Water From A Safe Supply

  • When travelling, camping or hiking, boil water for at least one minute, or drink only canned or bottled carbonated beverages. This parasite is not killed by low doses of chlorine or iodine. Remember to also boil water that is to be used for brushing teeth. Ice cubes made from contaminated water may also carry the parasite.

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If you are sick with diarrhea, see your doctor and avoid handling or preparing food for others.

 
Date of creation: November 24, 2012
Last modified on: January 11, 2016

References

1Heymann, D. L. (Ed.). (2015). Control of communicable diseases manual (20th ed.). Washington, DC: American Public Health Association.
2Pickering, L. K. (Ed.). (2012). Amebiasis. In 2012 Red Book: Report of the committee on infectious diseases (29th ed; pp. 222-225). Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.