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Amoebiasis - the facts

Page content: What is it? | What are the symptoms? | How does it spread? | What should I do if I have it? | Can I still work? | How can I avoid spreading it to my family? | How can I avoid getting it?

What is Amoebiasis?

Amoebiasis is a type of gastroenteritis (gastro) caused by a tiny parasite, Entamoeba histolytica, which infects the bowel.

Amoebiasis can affect anyone, however, the disease mostly occurs in young to middle aged adults.

Amoebiasis is generally associated with people living in areas of poor sanitation and is a common cause of diarrhoea among travellers to developing countries.

What are the symptoms of Amoebiasis?

The most common symptoms of amoebiasis are diarrhoea (which may contain blood), stomach cramps and fever.

Rarely, amoebiasis can cause an abscess (infection) in the liver.

After infection, it may take a few days, several months or even years before you become ill but it is usually about two or four weeks. To trace the cause of the illness, it is necessary to know what you ate and drank and where you travelled in the weeks before you became ill.

Entamoeba histolytica parasites are only found in humans.

How does Amoebiasis spread?

Amoebiasis occurs when Entamoeba histolytica parasites are taken in by mouth and the most common way this happens is by person-to-person spread.

People with amoebiasis have Entamoeba histolytica parasites in their faeces. If these people do not wash their hands properly after going to the toilet, then contaminated hands can spread the parasites to surfaces and objects which will be touched by other people. Contaminated hands can also spread the parasites to food which may be eaten by other people.

Hands can also become contaminated with parasites when a person changes the nappy of an infant infected with amoebiasis.

People can carry Entamoeba histolytica in their faeces without having any symptoms. These people can still pass the disease on to others.

Contaminated drinking water can also spread infection. The disease may also spread sexually by oral-anal contact.

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I think I may have Amoebiasis - what should I do?

If you have any symptoms of amoebiasis, report them to your doctor immediately. This will ensure that you receive proper treatment and advice and that steps are taken to reduce the spread of the disease.

Can I still work?

Food handlers, child care workers and health care workers with amoebiasis must not work until symptoms have stopped.
Children must not attend child care centres, kindergartens or school until symptoms have stopped.

How can I stop spreading it to my family?

In your household, the risk of spreading amoebiasis can be reduced. It is very important that people with amoebiasis or gastroenteritis do not prepare or handle food to be eaten by other people and that no one shares their towel of face washer.

How can I avoid getting Amoebiasis?

By following the guidelines below, everyone can do something to avoid getting amoebiasis.

Careful hand washing

Everyone should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and hot running water for at least ten seconds:

  • before preparing food
  • before eating
  • after going to the toilet or changing nappies
  • after smoking
  • after using a tissue or handkerchief

Food handlers should use disposable paper towels or an air dryer to dry their hands. Cloth towels are not recommended as they get dirty quickly and can spread germs from one person to another.

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Safe food storage and handling
  • Thoroughly cook all raw foods
  • Thoroughly wash raw vegetables before eating
  • Reheat food until the internal temperature of the food reaches at least 75 °C

Note for microwave oven users

Remember that part of the microwave cooking process, includes standing time. If a microwave oven is used, read the manufacturer's instructions carefully and observe these standing times to ensure the food is completely cooked before it is eaten.

Household cleaning

Bathrooms and toilets must be cleaned often to avoid the spread of disease. Pay particular attention to surfaces such as toilet seats and handles, taps and nappy change tables.

Water from untreated sources

Untreated water that comes directly from lakes or rivers may be contaminated with faeces from people. Boil water from these sources before drinking it.

Overseas travel

Special care needs to be taken by people travelling overseas, particularly to developing countries.

Contaminated food and drink are common sources of this disease. Careful selection and preparation of food and drink offer the best protection.

Foods which are best to avoid are uncooked foods, particularly vegetables and fruit, which cannot be peeled before eating. Unpackaged drinks and ice should also be avoided.


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