Amebiasis is a gastrointestinal disease caused by a one-celled parasite called Entamoeba histolytica. Although anyone can acquire this disease, it is most common in people who live in developing countries that have poor sanitary conditions. In the United States, amebiasis is most often found in immigrants from developing countries. It can also be found in Americans who acquired infection on travels to developing countries or who reside in institutional settings with poor sanitary conditions. Men who have sex with men can become infected, but may not necessarily develop symptoms.
How can I become infected with E. histolytica?
- By putting anything into your mouth that was contaminated with the stool of a person infected with E. histolytica.
- By swallowing something, such as water or food, that was contaminated with E. histolytica.
- By touching and bringing to your mouth cysts (eggs) picked up from surfaces contaminated with E. histolytica.
On average, about one in ten people who are infected with E. histolytica becomes sick from the infection. The symptoms are generally mild and can include loose stools, stomach pain, and stomach cramping. Amebic dysentery is a severe form of amebiasis associated with stomach pain, bloody stools, and fever. Rarely, E. histolytica invades the liver and forms an abscess. Even less commonly, it spreads to other parts of the body, such as the lungs or brain. In rare cases, it can be fatal.
Several antibiotics are available to treat amebiasis. Treatment must be prescribed by a doctor. You will likely be treated with only one antibiotic if your E. histolytica infection has not made you sick. You probably will be treated with two antibiotics (first one and then the other) if your infection is thought to have made you sick.