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.
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.
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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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Amebiasis is contagious. You can get it after:
If you have symptoms, your provider does a physical examination. They talk with you about:
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:
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.
Complications of amebiasis can occur, especially when the infection isn’t treated. They include:
Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions and take all medications as prescribed. Most amebiasis infections clear up in about two weeks with antibiotic treatment.
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:
If you do experience symptoms, see your provider right away. Waiting too long for treatment can lead to complications and severe illness.
You’re at higher risk for contracting a severe amebiasis infection if you:
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.
Treatment can cure amebiasis. But left untreated, amebiasis can be fatal. Talk to your healthcare provider if you recently traveled and started having symptoms.
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.
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.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/25/2022.
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