Schistosomiasis (Bilharzia)

What is Schistosomiasis?

 

Schistosomiasis also referred to as 'Snail Fever' or 'Bilharzia' is caused by the parasite called schistosomes. These parasites live in the viens, around the bladder and intestines and there are two forms of the disease namely; urinary schistosomiasis and intestinal schistosomiasis. This is the most deadly NTD, killing an estimated 280,000 people each year worldwide.

 

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Where it Occurs

 

It ranks second to malaria as the most common parasitic disease. In Cameroon, the most affected regions are ;

  • The three northern regions(Adamawa, North and Far North)
  • South West (Meme Division)
  • Littoral (Mungo Division)
  • Centre (Mbam and Inoubou Divisions)

 

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Cause

 

When an infected person defecates or urinates in water, the freshwater becomes contaminated with schistosoma eggs and once the eggs hatch they grow and develop inside snails in the water. The parasite then leaves the snails and penetrates the skin of anyone who comes in contact with the water via swimming, fishing, bathing or washing dishes.  The larvae migrate to the blood vessels where they mate and produce eggs. Some eggs travel to the bladder, liver or intestines and are passed into the urine or stool. Others remain trapped in the body and cause damage to internal organs.

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Symptoms

Symptoms for the disease vary depending on the type of worm involved and the location of the parasite inside the body, and can include:

  • Initial itching and rash at the infection site (“swimmer’s itch”)
  • Frequent, painful or bloody urine
  • Abdominal pain and bloody diarrhoea
  • Anemia
  • Fever, chills and muscle aches
  • Inflammation and scarring of the bladder
  • Lymph node enlargement
  • Enlargement of the liver or spleen
  • Secondary blood disorders in cases of colon damage
  • If infection persists, bladder cancer may eventually develop in some cases
  • Children with repeated infection can develop anemia, malnutrition and learning disabilities.
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Treatment

The most effective form of treatment is use of the drug praziquantel which is given according to height using a dose pole. However, the main way to avoid getting infected is to;

  • Always use latrines instead of defecating or urinating in or near the water.
  • Avoid contact with contaminated water.
  • Wear boots and gloves in swampy areas.
  • Be treated at least once a year if you live in schistosomiasis endemic areas.
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