Schistosomiasis is a parasitic illness that affects around 200 million people in the world, mostly in Africa and South America. It is spread by a flatworm or fluke in freshwater areas such as lakes, streams and rivers.
How is Schistosomiasis Spread?
The flatworm or fluke infect freshwater snails which go on to excrete a larvae which can penetrate the skin of swimmers, bathers and people carrying out daily activities in infested rivers and lakes. The larvae penetrate the blood vessels and move to the liver where they develop in to worms.
Schistosomiasis Signs and Symptoms
Schistosomiasis is a slow disease which over time can effect all parts of the body. It has three stages of infection. Firstly a swimmer’s itch which occurs when the larvae penetrate the skin. The second phase is acute schistosomiasis which can occur sometime after being exposed to the parasite, sometimes weeks or months. It occurs when the larvae mature into worms and start to produce eggs. Symptoms include diarrhoea, headache, muscle pain, weight loss and an enlarged liver and spleen. In rare cases the eggs can enter the brain or spinal cord. The third stage is chronic infection which can result i fibrosis of the liver, bladder scarring, eye damage, chronic urinary tract infection and in some cases bladder cancer.
Treatment of Schistosomiasis
Schistosomiasis can be treated early with an anti parasitic drug called praziquantel. It is best however to avoid swimming or bathing in risk areas.
Schistosomiasis is present in the fresh water in countries where it is endemic. Travellers are therefore advised to avoid all contact with the parasite by staying out of the water, avoiding swimming and bathing in risk areas. There are no vaccines or prophylactic drugs available to prevent acquiring Schistosomiasis.