Schistosomiasis - Travelers
Schistosomiasis (Bilharzia) - General
Also known as bilharzia, is a disease caused by parasitic worms. Infection with Schistosoma mansoni, S. haematobium, and S. japonicum causes illness in humans. 200 million people are infected worldwide. Schistosoma eggs contaminate fresh water when infected people urinate or defecate in the water. The eggs hatch, and if certain types of snails are present in the water, the parasites grow and develop inside the snails. The parasite leaves the snail and enters the water where it can survive for about 48 hours. Schistosoma parasites can penetrate the skin of persons who are wading, swimming, bathing, or washing in contaminated water. Within several weeks, worms grow inside the blood vessels of the body and produce eggs. Some of these eggs travel to the bladder or intestines and are passed into the urine or stool.
Infection occurs when your skin comes in contact with contaminated fresh water where certain types of snails carrying schistosomes live.
Within days after becoming infected, you may develop a rash or itchy skin. Fever, chills, cough, and muscle aches can begin within 1-2 months of infection. Most people have no symptoms at this early phase of infection.
Eggs travel to the liver or pass into the intestine or bladder. Rarely, eggs are found in the brain or spinal cord and can cause seizures, paralysis, or spinal cord inflammation. For people who are repeatedly infected for many years, the parasite can damage the liver, intestines, lungs, and bladder. Even without treatment, damage to these organs occurs only rarely.
Symptoms of schistosomiasis are caused by the body's reaction to the eggs produced by worms, not by the worms themselves.
What to do when I have it?
See your health care provider. If you have travelled to countries where schistosomiasis is found and had contact with fresh water, describe in detail where and for how long you travelled. Explain that you may have been exposed to contaminated water.
Your health care provider will ask you to provide stool or urine samples to see if you have the parasite. A blood test is taken. For accurate results, you must wait 6-8 weeks after your last exposure to contaminated water before the blood sample is taken.
Safe and effective drugs are available for the treatment of schistosomiasis. You will be given pills to take for 1-2 days.
If you live in or travel to areas where schistosomiasis occurs and your skin comes in contact with fresh water from canals, rivers, streams, or lakes, you are at risk of getting schistosomiasis.
Where does it occur?
Southern Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Lake Malawi and the Nile River valley in Egypt
- Avoid swimming or wading in fresh water when you are in countries in which schistosomiasis occurs. Swimming in the ocean and in chlorinated swimming pools is generally thought to be safe.
- Drink safe water. Because there is no way to make sure that water coming directly from canals, lakes, rivers, streams or springs is safe, you should either boil water for 1 minute or filter water before drinking it. Boiling water for at least 1 minute will kill any parasites, bacteria, or viruses present. Iodine treatment alone WILL NOT GUARANTEE that water is safe and free of all parasites.
- Bath water should be heated for 5 minutes at 150o F (65 o C). Water held in a storage tank for at least 48 hours should be safe for showering.
- Vigorous towel drying after an accidental, very brief water exposure may help to prevent the Schistosoma parasite from penetrating the skin. However, you should NOT rely on vigorous towel drying to prevent schistosomiasis.
Getaway Africa does not take any responsibility for any diseases contracted due to the information given in this document. Please consult your doctor before travelling into Africa.
The use of trade names is for identification only and does not imply an endorsement by Getaway Africa.
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