bilharzia
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bilharzia

bilharzia

Bilharzia
is a parasitical disease which is usually spread by swimming in contaminated water.

It is perhaps best to start out by assuming that the infection is present, to a greater or lesser extent, in almost all water sources, but most especially in shallow reedy waters in the vicinity of villages.

Although the adult parasites do not themselves cause a great deal of harm, after about 4-6 weeks they start to lay eggs, which triggers an intense but usually ineffective immune response, the symptoms of which can include fever, cough, abdominal pain, and an itchy skin complaint known as safari itch. After a while the symptoms settle down and the patient is left with a sense of feeling tired all the time.

Although bilharzia is difficult do diagnose, it can be tested for in specialist facilities. Treatment is relatively simple and effective.

Travellers intending to go white-water rafting, especially on the Nile at Jinja in Uganda, might first like to research articles such as this from CDC.


Locations ...

Bilharzia is a parasitical disease which is usually spread by swimming in contaminated water. It can be assumed that the infection is present, to a greater or lesser extent, in almost all water sources, but most especially in shallow reedy waters in the vicinity of villages.

The life-cycle of the parasite starts with infected human faeces being washed out into the waters of a lake or stream, the eggs hatch and the larvae infect a certain species of snail. These snails then produce around 10,000 swimming parasites every day for the rest of their lives. Both the parasites and the snails are easily dispersed by wind and currents, so contaminating the whole body of water.

These parasites are able to digest their way into your skin when you bathe in the water. Note that this can also occur when showering or taking a bath in a lakeside lodge if the water is piped in from the lake without suitable filtering or treatment. Once inside they find their way to the liver, where the male and female meet and spend the rest of their lives feeding on blood and copulating.


Symptoms ...

Although the adult parasites do not themselves cause a great deal of harm, after about 4-6 weeks they start to lay eggs, which triggers an intense but usually ineffective immune response, the symptoms of which can include fever, cough, abdominal pain, and an itchy skin complaint known as safari itch. After a while the symptoms settle down and the patient is left with a sense of feeling tired all the time.

Although bilharzia is difficult do diagnose, it can be tested for in specialist facilities. Treatment is relatively simple and effective.


Avoidance ...

1. Avoid bathing or paddling on shores of lakes, particularly in shallow waters within 200m of villages and other places where people use the water a lot.
2. Stay in the water for less than five minutes and rub yourself down vigorously to remove parasites.
3. Bathe in the early morning when the parasites are less active.
4. Ensure that water in lake-side lodges is suitable treated.
5. Cover yourself in a DEET based repellent before bathing.
6. Don't be convinced of the safety of swimming by the fact that locals and expats swim there ... they are likely to be much more used to getting and dealing with this kind of infection.

Personally we tend to keep our swimming in fresh water to an absolute minimum. We used to swim in Lake Tanganyika from the chimpanzee camps in the Mahale Mountains, but this is now not recommended due to crocodiles. We have swum in the waterfalls at above Lake Natron in northern Tanzania and in a few locations in the Okavango Delta, but all of these sources are extremely unlikely to be contaminated by human faeces. We have also swum, snorkelled and dived in parts of Lake Malawi and got away with it. Touch wood.

Read more about bilharzia on Wikipedia


Disclaimer : Please note that all of the information on this page and elsewhere in the health section of our website is provided for information only. We suggest that you always refer to a health professional when seeking medical advice.
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