Jungle Disease and Colitis Infection Amebic Dysentery
The lowly ameba so familiar to high school students in biology has a famous cousin, technically known as the ameba histolytica. This microscopic animal is the cause of amebic dysentery, one of the diseases dreaded by folks who live or travel in the jungle. To anyone acquainted with the tropics and of the difficulties and defects of sanitation in those regions, disease from ameba is quite understandable and even seems natural to the parts.
However, to regard amebic dysentery as a strictly tropical or jungle disease is a big mistake since alert medical men have detected it in many parts of our own United States. The great epidemic at Chicago some years ago was an amebic infection.
Only recently in a brilliant study of amebic dysentery in the area of Albany, New York, Dr. Towse, Berberian and Dr Dennis found that over ten percent of a group of 350 people showed the presence of amebic infection. When you consider the fact that these people lived in an area which has the benefit of the most modern sanitation, I think you will grasp the significance of their findings. Many of these cases which were found to show the presence of infection had more or less mild symptoms, some not even severe enough to impel them to consult a doctor.
Add to this the astonishing statement of Dr. Howard B. Shookhoff of New York City that routine examinations of food handlers in a first-class hotel showed the existence of infection in eighteen percent of them. When you realize that these people were handling food, you can also reasonably conclude that they handed out amebas as an extra dividend.
Any person who has lived or traveled in the tropics is likely to have this infection. As a means of protecting their friends and relatives, as well as their own future health, they should have laboratory examinations made upon the first appearance of symptoms.
Perhaps the most convincing supporting statement that this condition is not strictly a tropical disease can be found in the fact that the New York City Health Department has for the past six years maintained a Tropical Disease Diagnostic Service.
What has been said, of course, has particular significance to any who have had to live any length of time in the tropics. I have in mind particularly war veterans, many of whom have become chronic invalids because the true nature of their ailment, parasitic infestation, has escaped recognition. Some have been considered psycho-neurotic when as a matter of fact they have a very true basis for complaint. Dr. Thomas Mackie, in examining 500 veterans at the Tropical Disease clinic of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, found that 64 percent of these veterans had intestinal infections from protozoa such as the ameba, or worms.
Perhaps the reason these cases escape early recognition lies in the fact that the symptoms are often vague. Most people associate dysentery with the symptom of diarrhea; yet in amebic dysentery, this may be slight indeed and alternate with constipation with periods of normal action. However, loss of weight, fatigue and nervous anxiety together with the history of having lived in the tropics should direct attention to the possibility of amebic infection.
Colitis may originate in an infection by ameba as described above. While it is only one of the ways in which colitis may start, it is definitely one of the most serious, for this type of infection all too frequently ends in ulcerative colitis. In this condition, the lining of the colon is cruelly eaten away in spots by the amebic infection and ulcers occur throughout the lining of the colon. Not only does the presence of these ulcers cause pain and discomfort but it also gives rise to much bleeding as the ulceration erodes into small blood vessels and there is loss of blood. And, of course, there is always the danger of the ameba being transported to other organs, notably the liver. If this should occur, a serious condition known as liver abscess may develop to complicate the already serious colitis.
The foregoing may seem to have been given in frightening detail. If this adds to its effectiveness as a warning, I shall feel it has accomplished its purpose.
For those about to travel or live in the tropics for any extended period, the following advice will prove most helpful. It is given by Dr. Harold N. Mozar, Director, School of Tropical Medicine, College of Medical Evangelists, Loma Linda, California:
RULES FOR TROPIC TRAVELERS
“Prevention of enteric infection in the tropics is a matter of the greatest importance! Some of the larger cities in the tropics have a safe water supply. Filtration and chlorination are necessary to make the water safe, as a rule. Whenever there is doubt as to the purity of a supply, the only safe course is to boil all drinking water.
“The traveler should take it for granted that water obtained in small towns and villages and along the highway at filling stations is polluted water. Accordingly, he will carry with him his own supply of commercially bottled drinking water or he will sterilize his drinking water by boiling or by the use of chlorine. The latter is available at many drug stores in this country in the form of Halazone tablets. A bottle of 100 tablets, with directions for use, costs but a few cents and will more than suffice for the average trip through the tropics.
“Since many foreign countries lack the men and the means for proper public health inspections, pasteurization of milk is often done improperly and the milk is not handled in a way which is consistent with good sanitary practice. While one should never drink raw milk in the tropics, even pasteurized milk and its products are often not safe. Powdered milk is safe, palatable, and inexpensive. Of course, fresh milk can be rendered safe by boiling. “Cream-filled pastries, cheeses and other milk products should be avoided inasmuch as they are culture media for pathogenic bacteria. Meat and eggs should be thoroughly cooked in order to eradicate salmonellae and other organisms.” Written By: J. F. Montague, M.D., Continue Reading: Eye Diseases and Colitis