“Parasitology? As in worms? That’s icky!”
This is definitely a phrase that I would have spoken in the past, but now that I’m half way through my first semester of three parasitology classes, I’m kind of starting to enjoy it. Parasites, while icky, are very important to veterinary medicine, and many of them have amazingly complex life cycles! It might also help that I go to the school that is home to the National Center for Veterinary Parasitology!
In my first semester of parasitology classes, we are mostly covering life cycles. Many species of parasites have a direct life cycle which means that the adults shed eggs that then become directly infectious to the same host organism (the definitive host). Other parasites are more complex, sometimes requiring multiple intermediate hosts. An intermediate host is an animal that the parasite must pass through to get to the definitive host and complete its life cycle.
We have also been practicing species identification. Adult parasitic worms can be differentiated by their size, shape, and the presence or absence of many different features. For example, Ascarids (roundworms) have 3 lips that can clearly be seen under the microscope and are key to diagnosing them. Eggs can be distinguished by size, shape, and sometimes color.
Parasite knowledge and identification is important because parasites can severely harm their hosts (our patients), causing enteritis, colic, general unthriftyness, and so many other problems depending on the species. Many different parasites are also zoonotic so it is important as a practitioner to know what to watch out for!
So far, while I still think parasites are kind of gross, I have gained a whole new level of respect and understanding that I did not previously have for parasites. Who knows, I may even start to like parasitology!