What is Bilharzia (Schistosomiasis)?:
Schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia (bill-HAR-zi-a), is a disease caused by parasitic worms. Infection with Schistosoma mansoni, S. haematobium, and S. japonicum causes illness in humans. About 200 million people are infected worldwide.
How Can I Get Infected With Bilharzia (Schistosomiasis)?:
Fresh water becomes contaminated by Schistosoma eggs when infected people urinate or defecate in the water. The eggs hatch and the parasites grow and develop inside snails.
Schistosoma parasites can penetrate the skin of persons who are wading, swimming, bathing, or washing in contaminated water. Within several weeks, worms grow inside the blood vessels of the body and produce eggs. Some of these eggs travel to the bladder or intestines and are passed into the urine or stool.
How Can I Avoid Bilharzia (Schistosomiasis)?:
Bilharzia is found in most lakes, rivers, streams and dams in sub-Saharan Africa. You should not drink from any fresh water sources in this region. Avoid swimming in all of the lakes in the Rift Valley, including Lake Malawi despite the water appearing crystal clear and inviting. Bilharzia is also present in the Nile River valley in Egypt. See the map next to this article for areas where Bilharzia is endemic.
Symptoms of Bilharzia (Schistosomiasis):
Within days after becoming infected, you may develop a rash or itchy skin. Fever, chills, cough, and muscle aches can begin within 1-2 months of infection. Most people have no symptoms at this early phase of infection.
Eggs travel to the liver or pass into the intestine or bladder. For people who are repeatedly infected for many years, the parasite can damage the liver, intestines, lungs, and bladder.
Treatment for Bilharzia (Schistosomiasis):
Safe and effective oral drugs are available for the treatment of schistosomiasis. Praziquantel is the drug of choice for all species of Schistosoma. Travelers should be advised to contact an infectious disease or tropical medicine specialist. You will be given pills to take for 1-2 days. I've taken the cure myself and it is relatively painless.