What is Schistosomiasis?
Flukes, whose life cycle requires fresh water snails, cause Schistosomiasis. Schistosomiasis is contracted through the skin from fresh water contaminated with urine or faeces of an infected person. It is second only to Malaria as a public health problem in tropical and sub-tropical areas, affecting approximately 200 million people in both rural and peri-urban areas. 500-600 million people worldwide are at risk of the disease. Refugee movements in Africa cause spread to wider areas.
Travellers might experience an itching or rash a few hours after contact where the larvae enter the body. A person may remain symptom free until the eggs hatch weeks later, when a fever sometimes occurs. One of 5 types of fluke cause an infection of the bladder and/or bowel, often with bleeding. There are also recent reports of paralysis of the legs.
Who is at risk Schistosomiasis?
Any traveller to areas where Schistosomiasis is endemic (that is: the infection is present in low levels) is at risk. This includes South America, Africa and parts of the Middle East and India, and in Asia. Caution should be taken with diving lessons in fresh water lakes in risk areas!
How can I prevent Schistosomiasis?
Travellers should not paddle or swim in fresh water lakes, streams, rivers or slow running water. Quick drying of exposed areas can offer some protection, due to larvae needing water to survive. Minimal protection is also gained from wearing rubber boots or wet suits.
Note: This information is designed to complement and not replace the relationship that exists with your existing family doctor or travel health professional. Please discuss your travel health requirements with your regular family doctor or practice nurse.