Amebiasis (Amoebic Dysentery)

Amebiasis, or amoebic dysentery, is an infection caused by a parasite that your body sheds through stool. When the parasite gets into your intestine, it can cause symptoms like cramping and diarrhea. Healthcare providers treat amebiasis with antibiotics. Left untreated, amoebic dysentery can lead to complications or death.


What is amebiasis?

Amebiasis, or amoebic dysentery, is a gastrointestinal illness that develops when an organism called a parasite enters your intestines. The illness may cause diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramps and fever. Healthcare providers usually treat it with antibiotics.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Who does amebiasis affect?

Anyone can get amebiasis (am-eh-bye-eh-sis). The condition often occurs in tropical areas with poor sanitation. Poor sanitation means people don’t have:

  • Clean places to have a bowel movement (poop) or urinate (pee).
  • Places or supplies to wash their hands.
  • Safe places to dispose of household wastewater.

How do you get amebiasis?

You get amebiasis when a parasite called Entamoeba histolytica (E. histolytica) enters your digestive system. This happens when you eat or drink something that the parasite has contaminated. You can also get the parasite in your system if you touch a surface containing the parasite’s eggs and then put your fingers in your mouth.

Amebiasis usually spreads through contact with feces (poop or stool). You’re at higher risk for amebiasis infection if you:

  • Engage in anal sex.
  • Live with other people in a place that has poor sanitary conditions.
  • Travel to places with poor sanitation.


How common is amebiasis?

Pathogenic Entamoeba species occur worldwide and are frequently recovered from fresh water contaminated with human feces. About 50 million people across the world develop an amebiasis infection each year. The majority of amebiasis cases occur in developing countries.

In industrialized countries, risk groups include men who have sex with men, travelers, recent immigrants, immunocompromised people and institutionalized populations.

How will amebiasis affect me?

If you’re infected, you may develop gastrointestinal symptoms such as stool changes. If you don’t receive prompt treatment, complications can occur. Talk to your healthcare provider about symptoms right away if you’re at higher risk for amebiasis.


Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of amebiasis?

Not everyone who has an amebiasis infection gets sick. You might not have any amebiasis symptoms, especially when you’re first infected. You may develop symptoms within four weeks after infection. Symptoms include:

E. histolytica can live in your intestines for a long time, even if you don’t develop symptoms. If you’ve traveled to an area with unsanitary conditions, ask your healthcare provider if you should undergo testing.

What causes amebiasis?

The parasite E. histolytica causes amebiasis. A parasite is an organism that lives in or on another organism, known as its host. The parasite gets its nutrition from the host. When a parasite lays eggs, the eggs develop into mature cysts inside the host.

If you’re infected with this parasite, cysts leave your body through your stool. Then, anyone who comes into contact with a tiny amount of your infected stool can also become infected.

Is amebiasis contagious?

Amebiasis is contagious. You can get it after:

  • Exposure to E. histolytica through someone else’s infected stool.
  • Eating or drinking contaminated water or food.

Diagnosis and Tests

How do healthcare providers diagnose amebiasis?

If you have symptoms, your provider does a physical examination. They talk with you about:

  • Any recent travel and where you’ve gone.
  • Your sexual history.

What tests do healthcare providers use to diagnose amebiasis?

A healthcare provider looks at a stool sample under a microscope. The parasite that causes amebiasis isn’t present in all stool samples. You may need to provide more than one sample. A provider may also take a blood sample to look for certain antibodies.

If you have severe symptoms that indicate the infection has reached your bloodstream, your healthcare provider may recommend:

Management and Treatment

How is amebiasis cured?

Amebiasis treatment includes antibiotics, which can cure the infection. The antibiotics your provider prescribes depends on whether you’re experiencing symptoms. If you don’t have symptoms, you may need one type of antibiotics. If you do have symptoms, you may need to take two different antibiotics.

Are there complications of amebiasis?

Complications of amebiasis can occur, especially when the infection isn’t treated. They include:

How should I take care of myself if I have amebiasis?

Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions and take all medications as prescribed. Most amebiasis infections clear up in about two weeks with antibiotic treatment.


How can I reduce my risk of amebiasis?

You can reduce your risk of amebiasis infection by being careful about what you eat and drink when traveling to areas with poor sanitation. You should:

  • Avoid eating raw fruits and vegetables. Peel and wash produce before cooking.
  • Avoid drinks with ice cubes.
  • Drink only sealed bottled water (or boil water before you drink it if bottled water is unavailable).
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water after using the toilet or changing a baby’s diaper.
  • Use condoms and safe sex practices to reduce your exposure to feces during sexual activity.

If you do experience symptoms, see your provider right away. Waiting too long for treatment can lead to complications and severe illness.

What other conditions put me at higher risk for amebiasis?

You’re at higher risk for contracting a severe amebiasis infection if you:

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have amebiasis?

If you have amebiasis, take the antibiotics prescribed by your healthcare provider. Follow your provider’s instructions and finish all the medication. Usually, the infection gets better after treatment.

Is amebiasis life-threatening?

Treatment can cure amebiasis. But left untreated, amebiasis can be fatal. Talk to your healthcare provider if you recently traveled and started having symptoms.

Living With

When should I seek care from my healthcare provider for amebiasis?

Let your healthcare provider know if you experience gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea (especially bloody diarrhea). Be sure to tell your provider if you or someone you live with recently visited an area with poor sanitation.

Can I go to work or school if I have amebiasis?

You or your child should stay home if you have diarrhea. Wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom or handling diapers. Talk to your healthcare provider about when you or your child can return to work, child care or school once you have begun taking antibiotics.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Amebiasis may seem unpleasant. You may worry that people will find out you have it or that you won’t get better. But having amebiasis doesn’t mean you did something wrong. It’s an infection caused by Entamoeba histolytica, a parasite found in food and water contaminated by stool. You can get this parasite if you travel to a place with poor sanitation or live with others who have it. Don’t wait to see your healthcare provider if you think you might have amebiasis. Antibiotic treatment can cure it. But left untreated, amebiasis can cause life-threatening complications. Talk to your provider if you experience symptoms, especially after traveling.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 07/25/2022.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Appointments 216.444.6503