I Caught the Dreaded Amoeba Parasite in DR: What Happened & How I Treated It

For weeks, I felt extra joint inflammation and random pains around my body. I thought maybe it was the new bed I was sleeping in, an autoimmune flare up, and/or the many things I’d been busy doing for weeks. I’d been moving around the island on very little sleep or rest and thus eating out more than usual. A bad combination. Then just before going into Haiti from the Dominican Republic, I caught a very weird two day cold followed by an even weirder eye infection coupled with weeks of fatigue. A random set of feeling-sick-symptoms which I wrote off to just doing too much at the same time on little fuel. 

On the day I was crossing the border back, my stomach began to grumble. My body strongly craved jagua juice (jagua fruit soaked in water). After naturally preparing it, I drank tons of it while PROMISING myself to rest for the next few weeks. And just as I’d decided to REST for real, that entire night every hour I had to race to the bathroom. It seemed like everything was coming out of me. I barely slept that night. It hurt to sleep any other way than on my back. I wondered if the jagua water had triggered that clean out in me and later found out that it is indeed known to loosen bowels. Or maybe it was just time and my stomach could no longer handle the amoebas.

The next day, I oscillated between riding out major stomach cramps, racing to the toilet, and feeling too faint to stand much. So I called the pharmacy right away, knowing that dehydration is the #1 immediate concern for diarrhea. I hydrated with electrolyte drinks, ate hearty soups, and just when I thought “Hey my traveler’s diarrhea is over!” I noticed a very strange stool, which is one of the major parasite symptoms.

My roommate, a mini-curandera right away said: “it’s an amoeba!” And a friend of mine was also dealing with amoeba for months had already given me the scoop on how it works, so I knew it was a possibility. But I didn’t want to jump the gun since I was feeling slightly better. The next day, a few cramps and still… very strange stool. And although I wasn’t racing to the toilet every hour anymore, to be safe I went ahead and got a stool analysis which is one of the only ways to check for parasites/bacterial infection in the gut.

I went to Centro Medico Otorrino and much to my dismay, the test came back positive for entamoeba histolytica and they found 2-3 eggs/cysts per stool analysis. One of my worst top five travel fears had come to life. I caught a parasite! 🙁

The very distracted doctor put me on some antibiotics and dismissed me in a very aloof manner. I guess my situation paled in comparison to everyone else’s and/or he didn’t care. The receptionist was sweet and kind and calmed me down: “Girl, everyone has a parasites of some sort! Little kids get amoebas all the time playing outside. Don’t worry! Take your medicine and drink garlic and carrot juice… but not too much.” She gave me faith.

I decided I would take this time to detox and heal. I would treat this as a reminder to slow down and care more for myself. No sugar (feeds parasites), no dairy, no coffee. Just healthier and unrefined whole foods that cleanse and/or nourish me. I did slip once or twice in those two weeks as I began to feel better– but hey I’m human! 🙂

I also did my own extensive research and spoke to several people who’ve dealt with amoebas, which led me to stop taking that doctor’s antibiotic prescription (Metronidazole) the very next day. Instead, I spoke to my uncle who’s a doctor and he prescribed two of the top medicines I’d come across in ALL my research so I right away had so much faith in him: albendazole and tinidazole. And finally to “really finish it off” he gave me Paromomycin aka Aminosidina.

But to be honest, I don’t know if I would have been able to do it alone with the antibiotics based on the information I got from lots of other people who have spent YEARS dealing with amoeba/parasites. I think the TONS of homemade Dominican remedies (read which ones down below) and a proper diet coupled with my antibiotics together were what I think helped me get the good news from the clinic: no parasites or parasite eggs in my stool!

However, that doesn’t mean I’m going to drop everything now and go back to Presidente beers and chocolate bars. I will finish my medicine and continue my home remedies (just in case a little egg is still out there) for the next few weeks. I will also work to continue healing the damage my stomach has likely suffered from the amoeba + many antibiotics. And I will take this as a reminder to take better care of myself and my body. Thank you for this lesson. And may we never meet again, amoeba! PLEASE!

Not-so-fun-fact: Yesterday I found out that I actually caught the amoeba parasite when I was a little kid in Santo Domingo after drinking rainwater. So this is not my first time! (And yes the pain was very similar both times, I just had no idea it was a parasite as a kid).

In conclusion, amoebas are shockingly NOT uncommon in the Dominican Republic. And I think the reason I was able to nip this in the bud so soon is that I had already been warned of the symptoms by a friend who got it recently and told me exactly how and where to get checked. As well as my roommate who knew the signs. Otherwise, I may have waited longer and it may have done more damage or been harder to cure. So I’m writing this because I want MORE awareness of this issue so that it can hopefully be prevented and/or treated better. 

Who has parasites?

If you’re fearfully thinking of never leaving the confines of your country to avoid parasites, think again. You can get parasites anywhere. Studies estimate that approximately 1 in 3 humans around the world have parasites. Some parasites don’t cause any symptoms, while others can wreak havoc.

What is an amoeba?

There are different types of amoeba. So I’m going to just quote the professionals at Harvard Health on the one that I got:

Gastrointestinal amebiasis is an infection of the large intestine caused by microscopic one-celled parasites commonly known as amoebas (Entamoeba histolytica). Because these parasites live in the large intestine, they travel in the feces of infected people, and can contaminate water supplies in places where sanitation is poor. The parasite can contaminate fruits and vegetables grown in areas where human feces are used as fertilizer. They can be transferred on the dirty hands of infected people who don’t wash their hands often or correctly.

Once amoebas enter the mouth, they travel through the digestive system and settle in the large intestine. Harmless strains of the parasite (Entamoeba dispar) live there without causing damage. E. histolytica can live in the intestine without causing symptoms, but it also can cause severe disease. These amoebas may invade the wall of the intestine, leading to amoebic dysentery, an illness that causes intestinal ulcers, bleeding, increased mucus production and diarrhea. These amoebas also may pass into the bloodstream and travel to the liver or, infrequently, to the brain, where they form pockets of infection (abscesses).

About 10% of the world’s population is infected with amoebas, particularly people who live in Mexico, India, Central America, South America, Africa and the tropical areas of Asia.”

Where did I get the amoeba parasite?

I have about 100 theories as to where I could have caught that amoeba but I’ll never know for sure because it can take anywhere from days to several months for the symptoms to show up in people. Some studies say that 80% of people with amoeba parasite actually show no symptoms, which is scary to think about and really makes you understand why it can spread around so easily. My top 3 theories: the water I gulped while swimming in a river, a semi-raw egg I ate from a restaurant while in a rush, all the meat, fruits, and salads I’ve feasted on around the entire island for the last 5+ months.

How common is it to get an amoeba?

Apparently, when I began to tell friends and family that I had an amoeba parasite everyone says they have a family member or friend who recently had it or they themselves have had it. And… as I mentioned, my family just told me that I ALREADY had it! 

How is it spread?

If you have amoebsis hystolica, you basically ate poop because the amoeba is spread by the parasite’s eggs (cysts) being released through feces which remain viable for months! The stomach acid helps break down the outer layer of the egg so that it can hatch by the time it gets to your intestines. It uses our body’s defense system in its favor!

If there isn’t proper sanitation systems or the water source has been contaminated, you can catch it in your fruits, veggies, salads (if washed with contaminated water) or in whatever you ingest that’s been touched by it.

Once I suffered the wrath of the amoeba infection, I completely understood why it is spread so much. When you’re going to the bathroom 12 times a day, I can imagine that it’s easy for one of those tiny egg particles to stay on my hand at some point between wiping and flushing and washing my hands so many times while feeling so weak. Especially if you can’t afford enough toilet paper or soap.

In addition to my medicine and natural remedies, I made sure to get anti-bacterial wipes for the toilet seat and button, Clorox for the seats, and antibacterial soap to not spread it. That all cost me more than some people make in a day here.

How to avoid parasites in the Dominican Republic?

Parasites are all over the world. So you should take these precautions when traveling anywhere, but especially in more developing countries. Wash your fruits, greens, and vegetables carefully. Many Dominicans like to use a drop of Clorox when cleaning their food. Never drink unfiltered water. And avoid eating street food or in places with poor sanitation.

Can it kill me?

If left untreated, it can spread to your blood and in rare cases reach your organs (liver, lungs, brain, etc). It’s the number three cause of death of all parasite infections. Number one is malaria. Amoeba infects “50 million people worldwide and kills as many as 100,000 each year” according to Science Mag. Do not take this parasite lightly.

But don’t freak out. There are ways to cure it. And the faster you get on it the better because there are people who’ve had it for years. People who tried certain antibiotics and couldn’t get rid of it until finding the right one after a very long time. You don’t want to deal with this for that long. It’s really awful and can cause long lasting damage around your body. So catch it early and treat it consistently!

How to diagnose it?

I paid $300 pesos (about $6 dollars) to get a stool test at Centro Medico Otorrino in Santo Domingo.

How I got rid of amoeba parasites:

  • 2 tablets of Albendazole together (one day)
  • Then the next day: 12 tablets of Tinidazole (2 in the morning and 2 in the evening for 3 days).
  • Then two days later: 15 tablets of Paromomycin aka Aminosidina aka Septoral (1 pill every 8 hours for 5 days).

If you’d like an appointment with my uncle, email me ([email protected]) and I may be able to refer you to him.

COUPLED WITH NATURAL TREATMENTS

Now, I’m not advocating for a natural-only route. No way. I took that diagnosis VERY seriously and popped my prescribed pills. But, in addition to that, I also incorporated the holistic route which I will continue to use as prevention. Here are the top remedies by locals and my research:

    1. Papaya seeds — in scientific studies (done in Cuba and in Nigeria) most people who took papaya seeds eradicated their parasites including giardia and amoeba. I swallowed them like jelly pills and then I threw some in the blender with papaya and pineapple (which I also hear is great for this) and chugged it. The studies were done with ground papaya seeds while others say that it’s best to swallow them whole fresh out of the papaya with the jelly coating. I did both. Someone should do a study to if one way works better!
    2. Juiced garlic and carrots — juice a quarter carrot and 2-3 garlic cloves. Then drink about 1-2 spoons. Sit down in fetal position promptly after and try not to puke until the sweat and/or burn passes. This is the top recommendation around the country to get rid of the amoeba. Even the receptionist at the doctor’s office told me to do this but “not too much” because it’s very strong.
    3. Boiled pumpkin seeds with fresh coconut meat/oil— My roommate did this one for me like a soup/curry paste. It had: sen, carrot, raw coconut oil just made, garlic, freshly plucked oregano poleo, and many other things. I ate some of this every day. If you’d like to order some of this from her email me ([email protected]) and I’ll send you her Whatsapp. Sweet lady who knows a lot about Dominican natural remedies! She said this is how she healed her daughter.
    4. Woodworm + Black Walnut — Since parasites were one of my top 5 worst fears, I always carry this little bottle with me around the world. I put drops of this concentration in my water and chugged.
    5. Raw oregano – Like raw garlic, oregano is also powerful anti-parasitic. I chewed the leaves of oregano poleo every morning.

I also put onions, coconut oil, ginger, and cloves into whatever I could throughout the days because these are also known for being anti-parasitic. 

Doing all of the above (not at the same time but throughout the day), I began to feel better within 2-ish days. I continued every day especially with #1 and #3 (since I didn’t always have a juicer to do #2). And in 2 weeks my tests came back negative for parasites. Now I will focus on healing my stomach (including probiotics), nourishing my body, and being more mindful of what I eat/drink.

Related: Guide to Moving to & Living in Santo Domingo

Have you had an amoeba? How were you able to cure yourself? Do you have one now? Comment below!