Helminths are among the larger parasites. The word "helminth" comes from the Greek for "worm." If this parasite or its eggs enter your body, they take up residence in your intestinal tract, lungs, liver, skin or brain, where they live off the nutrients in your body. The most common helminths are tapeworms and roundworms.
The largest of the roundworms range in length from 6 to 14 inches. But imagine the largest of the tapeworms -- they can grow to be 25 feet or longer. Tapeworms are made up of hundreds of segments, each of which is capable of breaking off and developing into a new tapeworm.
Understanding infection vs. disease
There's a distinct difference between infection and disease. Infection, often the first step, occurs when bacteria, viruses or other microbes enter your body and begin to multiply. Disease occurs when the cells in your body are damaged -- as a result of the infection -- and signs and symptoms of an illness appear.
In response to infection, your immune system springs into action. An army of white blood cells, antibodies and other mechanisms goes to work to rid your body of whatever's causing the infection. For instance, in fighting off the common cold, your body might react with fever, coughing and sneezing.
Warding off infection
What's the best way to stay disease-free? Prevent infections from happening in the first place. You can prevent infection through simple tactics such as regular hand washing, vaccinations and appropriate medications.
1. Hand washing. Often overlooked, hand washing is one of the easiest and most effective ways to protect yourself from most infections. Wash your hands thoroughly before preparing or eating food, after coughing or sneezing, after changing a diaper and after using the toilet. When soap and water aren't readily available, hand-sanitizing gels can offer protection.
2. Vaccines. Vaccination is your best line of defense for certain diseases. As researchers understand more about what causes disease, the list of vaccine-preventable diseases continues to grow. Currently there are more than a dozen. Many vaccines are given in childhood, but adults still need to be routinely vaccinated to prevent some illnesses, such as tetanus and influenza.
3. Medicines. Some medicines can help you from becoming susceptible to infectious agents. For example, taking an anti-parasitic medication might protect you from contracting malaria if you travel to or live in an area where your risk is high. After exposure to certain organisms -- such as those that cause bacterial meningitis -- your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to lower your risk of infection. Or you may choose an over-the-counter antibiotic cream or ointment for minor cuts and scrapes. But long-term, indiscriminate use of antibiotics isn't recommended in most cases. It won't prevent bacterial infections and instead may result in a more resistant, harder-to-treat strain of bacteria when infections do occur.
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