Bilharzia - A guide to Schistosomiasis)

Bilharzia is an infectious disease that is also called Schistosomiasis. The agent of the disease is a parasitic worm of the Schistosoma variety. Common species include Schistosoma haematobium, Schistosoma japonicum, and the Schistosoma mansoni. These species result in sickness for human beings. Bilharzia has never been recorded in the United States, however, there have been over two hundred million cases recorded all over the world.

Fresh water sources are made contagious by the eggs of the Schistosoma when infected individuals defecate or urinate in the fresh water source. When the eggs of the Schistosoma hatch, they inhabit the bodies of certain types of snails in order to mature. At a mature stage, the Schistosoma leave and enter the water. The parasites are able to survive from there for approximately two days.

Humans contract Schistosomiasis when the skin makes direct contact with contaminated water that is inhabited by fresh water snails that have been carrying the Schistosoma parasites. When humans swim, bathe, or wash in the water, the parasites penetrate through the human skin. It takes a few weeks for worms to develop in the blood vessels of the human body and consequently create eggs. A number of the eggs will then move to the intestines or the bladder to be expelled from the body via excrements or urination.

Any symptoms from Schistosomiasis are actually caused by the eggs of the Schistosoma, rather than by the adult worm form of the parasite. While most people experience no noticeable symptoms during the early stages of Schistosomiasis, some symptoms may manifest in about two, three days after the initial infection. Symptoms typically include itchy skin and a rash. Approximately two months from this point, symptoms such as chills, muscle aches, fever, or cough may develop.

In rare cases, the eggs of the Schistosoma may be discovered in the central nervous system of a patient. In which cases, symptoms may be quite severe and include paralysis, inflammation of the spinal cord, and seizures. Long term Schistosomiasis can cause liver damage, damage of the bladder, intestines, and lungs.

If you suspect that you have Schistosomiasis, consult a medical professional straight away. Report to your doctor if you have had any contact with water that may have been contaminated. Schistosomiasis can be diagnosed using urine and stool samples. Blood tests are another option though accurate results require a sample to be taken about two months after a patient’s exposure to the contaminated water source. Treatment for Schistosomiasis requires prescription medication that is taken over two days.

People who live near fresh water sources are at greater risk of Schistosomiasis. Parts of Africa, South America, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Southern China, and Southeast Asia are known to have occurrences of Schistosomiasis.

Schistosomiasis can be prevented by avoiding fresh water sources that may be contaminated. Take caution with drinking water. If you are worried that the source may be contaminated, make sure that you boil the water for at least one minute or use a reliable filtering device. Please note that treatment using iodine does not insure that drinking water is safe from all parasites. Bath water needs to be heated for approximately five minutes at one hundred and fifty degrees Fahrenheit.

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