WHAT IS SCHISTOSOMIASIS ?
Schistosomiasis is a disease caused by parasitic worms. These worms are found in freshwater (in lakes and in rivers) in certain regions of Africa, South America, the Middle East, Asia and the Caribbean. The people in contact with contaminated freshwater get infected with schistosomiasis when the larvae of the parasite penetrate into their body through their skin. These larvae develop into adult worms in the blood vessels of their victim, where the female releases eggs. Some of these eggs are evacuated through urine and feces to ensure the reproduction of the worm, while some of them get trapped into body tissues. The trapped eggs cause an immune reaction and progressive damages to the organs.
The symptoms of schistosomiasis include skin rash, itching, a fever, chills, cough and muscular pain. But it is good to note that some people infected with the disease don’t show any particular sign. Schistosomiasis is usually easily cured, but without adequate treatment, it can lead to serious health problems.
WHAT IS THE RISK FOR TRAVELERS ?
Travelers are at risk for schistosomiasis if they are in contact with freshwater in Africa, in Asia, in South America, in the Middle East or in the Caribbean. This risk particularly increases if they go to really poor areas, where access to clean water is limited and where the sanitation infrastructure is insufficient. Some rivers and lakes in Sub-Saharan Africa are especially affected by the parasite (many of them being popular tourist destinations), like the Banfora region in Burkina Faso, the areas populated by the Dogon people in Mali, Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika, Lake Victoria, the Omo River, the Zambezi River and the Nile River.
HOW TO PREVENT SCHISTOSOMIASIS ?
There is currently no vaccine or specific medicine to prevent schistosomiasis. If you are going to an area at risk, you must take some precautions to avoid being infected with the parasite.
- Avoid any contact with freshwater bodies, such as lakes, rivers, ponds and swamps.
- Don’t swim in freshwater pools. Swimming in well-chlorinated pools or in the ocean is safe.
- If you need to use the water from a river or from a lake for bathing, you must make sure it is safe. For that, you can use one of the following methods : filtering the water with a fine mesh filter (with a pore size of 30 micrometers or smaller), heating the water to 50°C for 5 minutes, or keeping the water in a storage tank during at least 24 hours.
WHAT TO DO IN CASE OF INFECTION WITH SCHISTOSOMIASIS ?
If you get in contact with contaminated freshwater during your trip in a country affected by schistosomiasis, you must see a doctor immediately to get tested for schistosomiasis and to receive a treatment.
If you feel sick after visiting a country at risk and you think that you may be infected with schistosomiasis, consult a doctor as soon as possible. Praziquantel is usually prescribed to treat the infection, especially in the United States, as it eliminates effectively the adult parasites. The treatment lasts between 6 and 8 weeks, depending on the stage of the infection.
We make every effort to ensure that the information posted on our website is up to date and accurate according to the latest public health recommendations; however, it is impossible for us to make changes on a daily basis.
For the most current travel health recommendations, please call our clinic as make an appointment with one of our travel health professionals.