Schistosomiasis (Bilharzia): Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

Schistosomiasis, also known as snail fever and bilharzia, is a disease caused by infection with freshwater parasitic worms in certain tropical and subtropical countries. It is categorized under neglected tropical disease.

The disease is especially common among children in developing countries as they are more likely to play in the contaminated water and other high-risk groups include farmers, fishermen, and people using unclean water during daily living.

Bilharzia affected about 252 million people worldwide in 2015. An estimated 4,400 to 200,000 people die from it each year and the disease is most commonly found in Africa, as well as Asia and South America. Fewer than 100 thousand cases per year are reported in India.

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How Does Schistosomiasis Affect Your Body?

People infected with parasites released by freshwater snails can penetrate the skin during contact with infested water. When the parasite enters the body, the larvae develop into adult schistosomes. Adult worms live in the blood vessels where the females release eggs where some of the eggs are passed out of the body through feces or urine to continue the parasite’s lifecycle. While others become trapped in body tissues, causing immune reactions and progressive damage to organs.

What Are The Causes of Schistosomiasis?

Schistosomiasis is caused by parasitic worms, particularly snails including Schistosoma mansoni, S. haematobium, and S. japonicum. These parasitic snails are present in contaminated freshwater and can penetrate the skin of people swimming or bathing in it.

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What Are The Risk Factors of Schistosomiasis?

People who bath or swim in freshwater water lakes or pond which is contaminated with the parasites are at risk of getting Bilharzia.

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What Are The Symptoms of Schistosomiasis?

  • The first symptoms of schistosomiasis is a general feeling of illness, which is accompanied by a rash at the point of entry within twelve hours of infection.
  • After 2 to 10 weeks, fever, aching, cough, diarrhea, chills or gland enlargement can be observed.
  • Intestinal schistosomiasis is a condition in which the eggs become lodged in the intestinal wall. This can lead to high blood pressure, enlarged spleen and life-threatening swollen areas in the GI tract that can bleed profusely.
  • Dermatitis – Rashes appearing as round bumps usually one to three cm across.
  • Chronic disease – If stayed long in the body, adult worms lay eggs that can cause an inflammatory reaction in tissues or embolize to the liver, spleen lungs or brain.

How is Schistosomiasis Diagnosed?

  • Identification of eggs – Identification in stool or urine is the practical method for diagnosing.
  • Antibody detection – This can be useful to indicate infection in people who have traveled to areas where Bilharzia is common and in whom eggs cannot be demonstrated in fecal or urine specimens.
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How to Prevent And Control Schistosomiasis?

  • Avoid swimming or wading in freshwater when travelling to places where the water is contaminated.
  • Although Bilharzia is not transmitted by swallowing contaminated water, if the mouth or lips come in contact with water containing the parasites, you could become infected. Drink clean and oiled water.
  • Bath water should be heated to a rolling boil for at least 1 minute or bath in water stored in a tank for at least 1-2 days.
  • Vigorous towel drying after an accidental exposure to contaminated water may help to prevent the Schistosoma parasite from penetrating the skin.

Treatment of Schistosomiasis – Allopathic Treatment

Medications used:

  • Praziquantel – In areas where the disease is common, this medicine may be given once a year to the entire group in order to decrease the number of people infected and, consequently, the spread of the disease.
  • Oxamniquine – This is also recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for those who are known to be infected.
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Treatment of Schistosomiasis – Homeopathic Treatment

  • Curcuma longa – Curcuma longa was tested as an anti-bilharzial drug. It was proved that the extract was efficient in the repletion of the depleted glycogen reserves and induced a significant elevation of glucose concentration in control and infected C. longa-treated animals.
  • Echinacea – This is used for a range of benefits, including as an antiviral, an immune stimulant and to relieve urinary tract infections and yeast-related disorders.

Schistosomiasis – Lifestyle Tips

  • Drink clean, purified or boiled water.
  • Use hot or lukewarm water for bathing.
  • Try to avoid coming in contact with contaminated water in your area.
  • When travelling to places where this disease is common, take necessary precautions.

What Are The Recommended Exercises For a Person With Schistosomiasis?

No specific exercise is recommended for people with schistosomiasis.

Schistosomiasis & Pregnancy – Things to Know

  • Schistosomiasis affects the uterine environment during pregnancy.
  • About, 10 million women in Africa have schistosomiasis in pregnancy.
  • Studies suggested that pregnant women infected with Bilharzia develop severe anemia, have low birth weight infants, and an increased infant and maternal mortality rate.
  • Schistosomiasis has also been detected in the placenta and newborns have been diagnosed with the disease, thus confirming congenital infection.
  • Infected women have an increased rate of spontaneous abortions and a higher risk for ectopic pregnancies.
  • Early treatment with Praziquantel can decrease the risk of severe effects.

Common Complications Related to Schistosomiasis

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Seizures
  • Bacterial infections
  • Urinary obstruction
  • Organ damage and death

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