Disease database

Schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia, is a parasitic disease caused by blood flukes of the genus Schistosoma. It is prevalent in tropical and subtropical regions, particularly in areas with poor sanitation and limited access to clean water. Schistosomiasis affects millions of people worldwide and can lead to severe health complications if left untreated. In this article, we will explore the symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of schistosomiasis.

Fever: A Common Symptom

Fever is one of the primary symptoms of schistosomiasis. Infected individuals may experience recurrent episodes of fever, which can be accompanied by chills and sweating. The fever is often cyclic, with spikes occurring every few weeks. If you have been experiencing unexplained fevers, it is essential to seek medical attention and mention any recent travel to endemic areas.

Cough and Abdominal Pain: Warning Signs

A persistent cough and abdominal pain are common symptoms of schistosomiasis. The cough may be dry or accompanied by phlegm, and it can worsen over time. Abdominal pain is typically located in the lower abdomen and may be associated with bloating and discomfort. If you have been experiencing these symptoms, it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation.

Diarrhea and Blood in Urine: Alarming Signs

Diarrhea and blood in urine are alarming signs of schistosomiasis. The parasite’s eggs can cause inflammation and damage to the intestines and urinary tract, leading to diarrhea and hematuria (blood in urine). If you notice blood in your urine or experience persistent diarrhea, it is essential to seek medical attention promptly. These symptoms may indicate advanced stages of the disease.

Enlarged Liver and Spleen: Indicators of Disease Progression

As schistosomiasis progresses, it can cause hepatosplenomegaly, which is the enlargement of the liver and spleen. This occurs due to the chronic inflammation and scarring caused by the parasite’s eggs. Enlarged liver and spleen can lead to discomfort, tenderness, and a feeling of fullness in the abdomen. If you notice these symptoms, it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Anemia and Fatigue: Consequences of Chronic Infection

Chronic schistosomiasis can lead to anemia and fatigue. The parasite feeds on blood, causing a gradual decrease in red blood cell count. This can result in anemia, characterized by weakness, fatigue, and shortness of breath. If you experience persistent fatigue or other symptoms of anemia, it is important to undergo a thorough medical evaluation to identify the underlying cause.

Skin Rash: A Telltale Sign

A skin rash, known as “swimmer’s itch,” is a telltale sign of schistosomiasis. It occurs when the parasite’s larvae penetrate the skin during contact with contaminated water. The rash is typically itchy and may appear as small red bumps or blisters. If you develop a skin rash after swimming or bathing in freshwater, it is essential to seek medical attention and mention the possibility of schistosomiasis.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosing schistosomiasis involves a combination of clinical evaluation, laboratory tests, and imaging studies. A healthcare professional may ask about your symptoms, travel history, and conduct a physical examination. Laboratory tests, such as stool and urine analysis, can detect the presence of parasite eggs. Imaging studies, such as ultrasound, can assess the extent of organ damage.

Treatment for schistosomiasis typically involves the use of antiparasitic medications, such as praziquantel. This medication kills the adult worms and helps alleviate symptoms. In some cases, additional medications may be prescribed to manage complications, such as antibiotics for secondary infections or iron supplements for anemia.

Prevention: Key Strategies

Preventing schistosomiasis primarily involves avoiding contact with contaminated water sources. Here are some key strategies to reduce the risk of infection:

  • Avoid swimming or bathing in freshwater bodies, such as lakes, rivers, and ponds, in endemic areas.
  • Use safe water sources for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene. Boiling, filtering, or chemically treating water can help eliminate parasites.
  • Wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts and pants, when in contact with potentially contaminated water.
  • Ensure proper sanitation and hygiene practices, including the use of latrines and handwashing with soap and clean water.
  • Participate in community-based control programs, such as mass drug administration campaigns, where available.

By following these preventive measures, individuals can significantly reduce their risk of schistosomiasis and protect their health.

In conclusion, schistosomiasis is a parasitic disease that can cause a range of symptoms, including fever, cough, abdominal pain, diarrhea, blood in urine, enlarged liver and spleen, anemia, fatigue, and skin rash. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to prevent complications and long-term health consequences. By adopting preventive measures and seeking medical attention when necessary, individuals can protect themselves from this debilitating disease.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
Add a comment