Entamoeba histolytica is one of the most common parasitic infections worldwide, infecting about 50 million people and resulting in 40 000–100 000 deaths a year. In Australia, people at risk of infection include immigrants, travellers returning from countries of high endemicity, Indigenous people, and men who have sex with men. Clinical manifestations range from asymptomatic carriage to invasive disease. Amoebic colitis and amoebic liver abscess are the most common invasive manifestations observed in Australia.
A sample of returned travelers who sought health care from 2007 through 2011 at any of 53 international GeoSentinel-associated clinics showed that most people diagnosed with E. histolytica had traveled for tourism to India, Indonesia, Mexico, or Thailand, as opposed to visiting with friends and relatives or traveling for business. Nevertheless, cases of amebiasis are not restricted to these countries and are distributed worldwide, particularly in the tropics, most commonly in areas of poor sanitation.
Most patients have a gradual illness onset days or weeks after infection. Symptoms include cramps, watery or bloody diarrhea, and weight loss and may last several weeks. Occasionally, the parasite may spread to other organs (extraintestinal amebiasis), most commonly the liver. Amebic liver abscesses may be asymptomatic, but most patients present with fever and right upper quadrant abdominal pain, usually in the absence of diarrhea.