What is Balantidiasis?
What are the Causes of Balantidiasis?Balantidiasis is caused by a large intestinal parasite, Balantidium coli. The infection is caused by contact with contaminated human or animal fecal matter. In humans, if food products are washed with contaminated water, it becomes a source of infection. Poor hygiene practices are a source of contamination. The infection can also occur by consuming contaminated water, fruits, and vegetables which have been in contact with infected individuals.
Other factors that can predispose an individual to Balantidium coli infection are:
- Number of infecting parasites
- The status of the normal bacterial content in the intestine
- Immunity acquired by living in communities which are regularly exposed to the Balantidium bacteria
- Presence of other health conditions like cancer (abdominal lymphoma)
- Nutritional intake
- Organ transplants
- Living in institutions like orphanages, senior citizen homes, prisons, and asylums
- Farmers and zookeepers who are in contact with infected animals
- Infected sludge that is obtained from sewage treatment and is used as fertilizer
- Infected pigs, rats, monkeys, and cockroaches
What are the Symptoms and Signs of Balantidiasis?There are 3 ways in which humans show signs of Balantidiasis:
- Some individuals may not experience any symptoms following infection.
- Certain individuals experience severe symptoms like blood and mucus in the stools. Individuals have frequent stools that may number more than 20 in a day.
- Following infection, individuals may experience abdominal pain, cramping, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea without blood.
Other symptoms include insomnia, weight loss, headache, and muscle weakness.
Balantidium coli also cause infections in the bone, lungs, and genitourinary tract.
There are certain health conditions which have similar symptoms as Balantidiasis. These health conditions are irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, chronic erosive gastritis, amoebic dysentery, Crohn’s disease, shigella dysentery, chronic fungal bowel infections, amebiasis, intestinal tuberculosis and Yersinia enterocolitica infection. Hence, doctors need to take this into account before confirming a Balantidium coli infection.
How to Diagnose Balantidiasis?Balantidiasis is diagnosed with slide samples of secretions of the intestine or stool samples. It is the easiest form of diagnosis as the parasites are large in size and actively motile. Cysts can also be detected with staining. Balantidium cysts are larger and aid in detecting the exact cause of dysentery. However, intense staining may obscure the cysts or may result in certain structures within the stools to resemble the cysts. This may lead to misdiagnosis. In order to confirm the diagnosis, stools should be checked frequently as the cysts are excreted at regular intervals.
Additionally, the colon wall can be analyzed by sigmoidoscopy to detect damage to the wall by parasitic infection. A long sigmoidoscope is used to examine the tissue and also extract a small section of the tissue for analysis (biopsy).
Infection of the lungs can be detected with phase contrast microscopy. This reveals the typical features of Balantidium coli and avoids confusion with other infectious organisms.
Flotation and sedimentation are used to concentrate Balantidium coli in the samples of stools to favor diagnosis.