What Is Schistosomiasis?

Schistosomiasis

Schistosomiasis, also called bilharzia, is an infectious disease that is caused by parasitic worms. Globally, more than 200 million people have been impacted by this disease. The causative agent lives in freshwater snails which eventually enter the water of rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds. People are affected by the parasite via skin contact - the parasite penetrates into the skin of people. Human diseases mostly occur with Schistosoma mansoni, S. japonicum, or S. haematobium.  

Symptoms an infected person may experience

The severity of signs and symptoms differs from person to person. In the early stage, some people may be asymptomatic while others may experience pruritus or rash. Within a couple of months of the infection, some people may experience symptoms such as chills, fever, muscle pain, and cough. In certain situations, the parasite may further affect organs such lungs, liver, intestine, and bladder. When the parasite recurrently attacks children, there are chances of developing conditions such as malnutrition, anemia, and learning difficulties. The brain and spinal cord are rarely impacted by the disease. 

How to conclude if one has Schistosomiasis and how to treat it?

The diagnosis of schistosomiasis is performed by examining stool or urine samples under the microscope. Sometimes, a blood sample may be needed to examine.
The currently recommended medication for schistosomiasis is praziquantel which is prescribed by the healthcare provider. 

Which countries are at risk of schistosomiasis?

Not every country has a prevalence of schistosomiasis. Schistosomiasis occurs in African countries, the Middle East, Asian countries such as Southern China and the Philippines, South America, and the Caribbean. Recently, Corsica has been added to the list.

What are the precautions one needs to take?

Currently, there is no vaccine available for schistosomiasis. However, there are some precautions that people can take when traveling to high-risk areas. Some preventive methods include:

  • Drinking safe water by boiling or filtering water.
  • Bathing in clean water.
  • Avoid water activities such as swimming or wading in water in high-risk areas.
  • Immediate towel drying if exposed to contaminated water. However, this is not completely guaranteed prevention. 

It is also imperative to educate on good hygiene techniques to vulnerable communities. Education will prevent the risk of getting the infection and save morbidity and mortality rates. 

Further reading:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parasites - Schistosomiasis. 2018. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/schistosomiasis/index.html

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