Schistosomiasis is an infection caused by parasites like S.japonicum, S.mansoni and S.haematobium species. These are schistosomes living inside the human body as host cells and come into contact through water. Pet animals like dogs, cats, pigs and rodents act as carriers of these schistosomes and spread it to human beings when contacted.
Schistosomes is the major tropical disease like malaria and is one of the most prevalent disease caused by parasites. Though around 700 million people are affected due to this disease, the rate of mortality is still low. China and Egypt are potentially at risk of getting this infection among other world countries. Schistosomiasis is also called swimmer’s itch and katayama fever.
Contaminated water is the main cause for getting this infection from schistosomes. Normally these parasites live in water in different stages of lifecycle. Once the parasite gains entry into human skin, they make burrows to penetrate deep into the skin and transforms to the next stage and further migrate to vital organs like liver and lungs.
Often, these species attack bladder, intestine, rectum and liver where they become matured or adult parasites competent enough for spreading infection.
The signs vary widely with respect to the species that causes infection and on the phase on which it enters the human body. Some of the common symptoms when a person gets infected with many parasites are fever, headache, malaise, chills and enlargement of lymph nodes. Sometimes it infects the liver causing spleen enlargement and liver damage.
Initial symptoms include irritation and skin rashes which are called swimmer’s itch. They mutate into the next phase at this stage and affect the abdomen or liver causing diarrhea and abdominal pain. For some there may be bloody discharge with stool. Some people will have the urge to pass urine frequently and burning sensation while urinating. On rare occasion, there may be blood (hematuria) in the urine.
Your doctor will examine the body and look for symptoms of infection. He may also do biopsy of the skin by cutting a small piece of tissue and checking it. Complete blood profile test and urine and stool test are also done.
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Often, praziquantel is prescribed for controlling schistosomiasis which is effective in destroying adult parasites. It involves simple treatment and the drug is given in the pill form after assessing the weight of the person. It triggers the immune system of the body to fight against these parasites and totally destroys it. Some doctors prescribe corticosteroid medications for reducing the symptoms of the disease.
Other medicines that are prescribed include metrofonate, trioxolanes, oxamniquine and artemisinins. Depending on the condition of the patient, he may be hospitalized and put on IV fluids to arrest intestinal bleeding.
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If left untreated, the adult parasite may progress to attack liver and spleen causing more complications. It can also infect urinary tract increasing the risk of getting squamous cell carcinoma. It would trigger renal stones by causing secondary infection. In extreme cases, schistosomes may cause renal failure.
If it attacks gastrointestinal tract, you may have complications like bleeding in the gastro-intestine and mal-absorption. There may be symptoms of iron deficiency and lesions begin to develop in the colon and also on the rectum. It can attack liver causing fibrosis. On rare occasions, it can invade your lungs causing pulmonary hypertension or chronic pulmonary infection.
You should avoid swimming in public pools or in contaminated water.