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32 scary parasitic diseases

Parasitic diseases, which are passed on to people via parasites found in contaminated food, water, soil or bugs that bite humans, can be relatively uncommon in some parts of the world. In other regions, though, they can be absolutely devastating. Some parasites can cause illnesses that are temporary, but some trigger lifelong medical problems. 

Not all parasitic diseases are due to poor sanitation or poverty; you can be exposed to parasites regardless of your socioeconomic situation. Here are 32 parasites that can infect humans, including some well-known culprits and some you may not have heard of.

American trypanosomiasis

(Image credit: CDC/ Gary D. Alpert, Ph.D., Northern Arizona University, Department of Biological Sciences)

Chagas disease, also known as American trypanosomiasis, is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. It’s common in rural areas of Latin America, and its range, overall, is confined to North and South America. Insects known as kissing bugs get the parasite from an infected animal or person and then pass the parasites in their feces. Kissing bugs tend to bite their victims on the face, then defecate on the bitten person or animal. If their feces gets into the body — as might happen if you were to scratch the wound — you could get infected. Though the initial symptoms include fever, headache or rash, Chagas disease can be a lifelong illness that results in cardiac and gastrointestinal problems.

Bed bugs

(Image credit: CDC/ CDC-DPDx; Blaine Mathison)

Bed bugs are well-known parasitic insects that can damage furnishings with their staining poop and leave people itchy — but thankfully, these insects can’t cause you lasting damage. 

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