Main Page Content

What is amebiasis?

Amebiasis is an infection caused by a parasite, called Entamoeba histolytica.  It lives in the feces (poop) of a person.  Most infections occur in a person’s stomach and intestines (gastrointestinal tract).  In some people, the disease may occur in the liver, lungs, skin, and other parts of the body.

What are the symptoms of amebiasis?

  • Severe diarrhea (loose poop)
  • Stomach pain
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Weight loss

Most people infected do not show any symptoms at all.  Although symptoms can take a few days to several months or years to develop after the parasite enters the body, it usually takes 2 to 4 weeks before you feel sick. 

Infographic showing how amebiasis is spread

How is amebiasis spread?

  • Amebiasis can be spread directly or indirectly from person to person through the “fecal-oral route” by:
  • drinking and eating contaminated water and food
  • touching your mouth with unclean hands
  • putting anything in your mouth that has feces on it
  • oral-anal sexual activity.

Amebiasis is common in places where hygiene and water treatment are poor.  People who live in or travel to such areas and people who take part in oral-anal sexual activity are at a higher risk of getting the infection.

How long is it contagious?

A person infected can continue to pass the parasite to others for as long as it remains in the feces.  This may continue for months or years.

How is amebiasis treated?

If you or your child develops these symptoms, see your health care provider.  Your health care provider might prescribe medications, such as antibiotics and/or amebicides, to treat the infection.  Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.

People who work with food or water and childcare or health care providers may be advised to stay home to minimize the spread of this infection.

How is amebiasis prevented?

Ways to prevent infection include:

  • Wash your hands often with warm water and soap, especially before and after preparing foods, before eating, and after handling diapers and using the washroom.
  • Practice safe food handling, including washing all uncooked fruits and vegetables in clean water, and cooking your food properly.  Avoid preparing food if you are sick.
  • Avoid drinking untreated water.
  • Get rid of feces properly and in a clean manner, and do not use as fertilizer.
  • Practice safer sex.
  • When traveling, visit your health care provider or a travel clinic at least six weeks before to assess your chances of infection and for advice on preventing infection.

References:

Heymann, D.L. (Ed.). (2015). Control of communicable diseases manual (20th ed.). Washington, DC: American Public Health Association.

Ontario. Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. (2015). Infectious diseases protocol, Appendix A: Disease-specific chapters, Chapter: Amebiasis. Toronto, ON: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.

Ontario. Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. (2015). Infectious diseases protocol, Appendix B: Provincial case definitions for reportable diseases, Disease: Amebiasis. Toronto, ON: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.

Public Health Agency of Canada. (2014). Entamoeba histolytica – Pathogen safety data sheet. Retrieved from http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/lab-bio/res/psds-ftss/msds58e-eng.php.