Schistosomiasis, commonly referred to as bilharzia, is a parasitic disease caused by the genus Schistosoma. The larvae of this worm come out from snails that live in fresh water. These larvae enter the human body when the individual uses this contaminated water. Once inside the body the larvae settle down in blood vessels and mature into a worm where the female worm lays numerous eggs every day. Many of these eggs get washed away from the body through urine or feces while others get trapped in some blood vessels or tissues. These worms are the ones which cause the characteristic symptoms of Schistosomiasis.
The worms may affect any organ system of the body. It is estimated that around 250 million people are affected by this condition every year especially in the economically backward countries. Anemia, cognitive impairment, and portal hypertension are the main conditions that arise due to Schistosomiasis.
As and when the disease progresses the worms tend to start inflicting damage to the organs which may even result in fatalities. Whether Schistosomiasis can be prevented and if yes what steps have been taken is something which has been discussed in detail in the article below.
Can Schistosomiasis Be Prevented?
Schistosomiasis is a disease that can be prevented. The best way to control or prevent the disease is by analyzing and treating people from the high risk zones. Providing safe drinking water, betterment of sanitation, educating people on hygiene are some of the efforts that need to be made in the backward countries to prevent spread of Schistosomiasis.
The groups that are selected for preventive treatment through the drug called praziquantel are generally school-going children living at high risk zones. Adults living in these high risk zones or those who come in contact with contaminated water regularly due to their occupation are also treated preventively for this condition. These adults generally comprise of fishermen, farmers, irrigation workers, or domestic helps.
It is also recommended that infants and toddlers living in high risk zones also be treated preventively so that disease spread can be avoided in them. However, as of now there is no correct formulation of the drug that should be given to infants and toddlers to prevent Schistosomiasis.
The question now arises as to how frequent the treatments should be given. The treatment with praziquantel should be repeated every year for school aged children especially in high risk zones till the time they mature into adults. Close monitoring is essential in such cases to note the impact of the methods utilized to prevent a disease like Schistosomiasis.
The aim of the treatment is to reduce the transmission of the disease. Praziquantel is quite an effective medicine to control, treat, and even reverse in some cases the effects of Schistosomiasis. It is a safe and a low cost drug. However, there is not enough of this medication available to cover the entire population living in high risk zones around the world.
Post treatment there is a chance of recurrence of the disease but by and large the transmission gets controlled and the symptoms are very mild at best. The data from World Health Organization states that Schistosomiasis has been successfully controlled in high risk countries like Brazil, Iran, Egypt, and Yemen. In countries like Tanzania, Rwanda, and Niger the scale of the prevention and treatment program has been increased.
The people in these countries are being educated on the preventive measures that need to be taken to prevent a disease like Schistosomiasis. Preventive treatment has also reached far wide in these areas and within a few years the positive outcomes of these efforts will be there for everyone to see.
Over the last decade the extremely high risk zones across the Sahara region, has seen a tremendous rise in education and awareness among people on the various ways to prevent and treat Schistosomiasis.