Schistosomiasis (Bilharzia)

The Schistosoma is a parasitic worm found in Asia, Africa and South America. Bilharzia is the ancient name of infection by this worm. The eggs of the worm hatch in freshwater. Larvae hatch from these eggs. These larvae need an intermediate host, the freshwater snail. In the snail, the larvae develop and are then released into the water. You can become infected by bathing, wading and swimming in stagnant freshwater and by drinking and washing. The symptoms you may get are fairly common signs of illness. How many symptoms you get depends on how many larvae you have ingested. One to two months after infection, you may experience acute symptoms with fever, coughing, muscle aches and chills. Other symptoms may include loss of appetite, weight loss and head, abdominal and joint pain. These symptoms go away after a few weeks to months. Then the disease enters the chronic phase, where inflammation develops in bladder or intestines. In a late stage, you may experience blood loss in urine or diarrhoea. Other organs may also be affected.

You can prevent infection by avoiding stagnant fresh water in the tropics; a swimming pool with chlorinated water is safe. If you have symptoms as described above, you should tell the doctor that you have been in an area where the disease occurs. Treatment is possible with drugs.

One cannot be vaccinated against Bilharzia.