John P Ackers Department of Medical Parasitology London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine London UK

Copyright © 1998 Elsevier Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The World Health Organization definition of amebiasis describes it as 'infection with Entamoeba histolytica, with or without clinical symptoms'. It has long been known that at least 90% of patients with amebiasis will be asymptomatic cyst passers but only recently appreciated that these cases are caused by a separate species of ameba, now usually referred to as Entamoeba dispar; it is generally felt that about 450 million people carry this organism without either pathology or an immune response. At least 50 million new cases of infection with E. histolytica sensu stricto are thought to occur each year; the proportion of those infected who show clinical symptoms at any one time is hotly debated but everyone agrees that all are at risk. The remainder of this entry will deal exclusively with E. histolytica in its new sense - previously described as the 'pathogenic zymo-deme'. Methods of distinguishing it from E. dispar (they are morphologically identical) are only slowly coming into use and this must be borne in mind when reading any but the most recent literature.

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