Bilharzia (Schistosomiasis) is a disease spread by a nasty little parasitic worm that lives in dams, lakes and rivers throughout sub-Saharan Africa. The worm enters a person's blood stream as they are wading, swimming or drinking contaminated water. If you get infected it will take a few months before any signs of fever, chills and fatigue are detected. If left untreated Bilharzia can affect the liver, intestines, lungs and bladder. If you think you may be infected there is a simple oral drug that will take care of the parasite. You usually have to take it at least 6 weeks after you've been exposed in order to let the parasitic worms develop in your system.
When you see some of the lakes and rivers in sub-Saharan Africa it's very difficult to resist the temptation to dive right in. Personally I've enjoyed swimming in Lake Malawi (pictured here) many times and simply taken the treatment for Bilharzia afterwards. Having parasites mature in my bloodstream doesn't bother me too much, but it might not be everyone's idea of a good African souvenir. Read on for more information about the symptoms of Bilharzia and how to avoid it..