Schistosomiasis is a serious disease that affects the internal organs but can be prevented. The disease is usually due to the infection of parasitic worms which thrive in certain types of freshwater snails. Take note that the parasites or cercariae can infect the water around the snails.
Once the skin is exposed to the infected water, it can lead to schistosomiasis or snail fever. The condition affects millions globally, particularly in tropical and sub-tropical areas. Areas that do not have access to safe drinking water and poor regions have the highest cases of schistosomiasis. Most acquire the parasite after doing chores such as washing clothes or bathing in infected water.
Exposure of the skin to fresh water that has been infected by the parasitic worms can lead to schistosomiasis. The spread of the infection does not occur through drinking water but if the water touches the lips or skin, an infection can develop.
Schistosomiasis can infiltrate clean fresh water if individuals who carry the disease urinate or excrete in the water. If there are certain snail species present in the water, the eggs of the parasite can go into the snails where they multiply and spread. Once the parasites abandon the snails, they can taint the water around them. If the skin has been exposed to the water, the infection can develop.
Once the eggs enter the body, they grow as worms which takes more than a few weeks. The worms are likely to thrive in the blood vessels where the females put down eggs and multiply. The condition spreads if the eggs reach the intestines or bladder and eliminated from the body.
Those who reside or travel to areas with cases of schistosomiasis and exposed to fresh water face the highest risk for developing the infection. Remember that it only occurs in fresh water such as canals, lakes, ponds and streams.
What are the indications of schistosomiasis?
Some of the indications of the disease start to develop within days. Other cases might take months to occur. Some individuals do not even experience any symptoms in the early phase of the disease. The main symptoms include the bodily reactions to the parasites. Within days of the infection, there is a rash or the skin starts to itch. Within 1-2 months, the following might be noticeable:
- Muscle aches
- Abdominal pain
- Blood-streaked urine or feces
- Painful urination
- Enlarged spleen or liver
Over time, schistosomiasis can cause significant damage to the bladder, liver, intestines and the lungs.
The disease is treated using medications specifically praziquantel. It is important to note that serious complications can develop if the condition is not properly treated including bladder cancer and liver damage.
The outlook is good as long as treatment is started before any internal damage takes place.