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Schistosomiasis Travel Advice

Schistosomiasis, or bilharzia, is a parasite that enters the skin when you enter contaminated fresh water. The worm is found in Asia, South America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Africa. Travelers to these regions should be aware of precautions to help prevent infection.

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Are you an international traveler or expat? Keep reading to learn how to avoid Schistosomiasis abroad! We’ll cover locations where this parasite calls for extra caution.

In this article, we’ll also discuss how you get schistosomiasis, how to avoid it, and common treatments. We’ll also make sure you have links to find great travel insurance during your travels or digital nomad experience. And after this article, check out the 14 most common diseases to out for when traveling abroad!

What Causes Schistosomiasis?

Schistosomiasis is a disease caused by a parasitic worm. The worm is found in many parts of the world. The worm enters your body through your skin. You can become infected after bathing, wading, swimming, or coming in contact with contaminated fresh water.

This disease is also known as bilharzia. The worms most likely to infect humans are Schistosoma mansoni, Schistosoma haematobium, and Schistosoma japonicum. Nearly 200 million people are infected worldwide.

Is Schistosomiasis Contagious?

Schistosomiasis does not spread from person to person through contact. The disease spreads when urine or feces from an infected person or animal contaminates fresh water with the worm’s eggs. Once the worms have hatched and matured, they can enter through the skin from the water.

Containing the disease involves controlling the snail population in these waters that serve as hosts to maturing worms and treating infected populations to stop contamination. 

Common Symptoms of Schistosomiasis

The first sign of infection is a rash or itchy skin. This happens with days of infection. 1-2 months later, infected individuals may develop muscle aches, fever, chills, and a cough. Most people will not experience any symptoms during the beginning infection phase.

In children, schistosomiasis can lead to anemia, stunted growth, and reduced learning ability. Fortunately, these effects are usually reversible with treatment.

Schistosomiasis has two main manifestations: intestinal and urogenital each presents a little differently and the infection type can depend on the type of Schistosoma worm that infects you.

Intestinal Schistosomiasis

Symptoms of intestinal schistosomiasis include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and blood in the stool. Advanced cases may result in complications for the abdomen including the liver and spleen.

Urogenital Schistosomiasis

The most recognized symptom of urogenital schistosomiasis is blood in the urine. This is also called hematuria. Advanced cases of urogenital schistosomiasis can result in kidney damage and fibrosis of the ureter and bladder.

What Causes Symptoms of Schistosomiasis Infection

Once the adult worms begin laying eggs in your body, the eggs can travel to your intestines, bladder, or liver. The presence of the eggs leads to scarring in these locations. After many years of infection, you may have significant damage to your lungs, intestines, bladder, or liver.

In rare cases, the eggs may also travel to the spinal cord or brain and cause inflammation, paralysis, or seizures. Symptoms of Schistosomiasis are not caused by the worms themselves. Rather, your body responds to the eggs, causing symptoms.

Schistosomiasis is not the only disease abroad that may cause inflammation in the brain. Be aware of other diseases like rabies or Japanese Encephalitis. These diseases are also found in some of the same regions as schistosomiasis.

Schistosomiasis Blook Fluke Worm - Carrier on the Disease

Where Schistosomiasis Is Found

Schistosomiasis is mainly found in South America, Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. The disease can also be found in the Caribbean and a part of France. Since the disease is spread by contact with contaminated fresh water, avoid contact with fresh bodies of water in the affected regions.

85% of all schistosomiasis cases are in Africa. In Africa, as much as 50% of the local population is infected with schistosomiasis in impacted regions.

Schistosomiasis transmission has been reported in 78 countries worldwide. 51 countries are considered to have a moderate to high risk of transmission.

More specifically, areas identified by the World Health Organization and CDC include:

  • Africa
    • Nile River Valley in Egypt and Sudan, rainforests of central Africa, and countries like Mauritius, Madagascar, and Togo
  • Asia
    • Southern China, Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and the Middle East
  • South America
    • Brazil, Venezuela, Suriname
  • Southeast Asia
  • The Caribbean
    • Martinique, Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Saint Lucia
  • Europe

No matter where you’re headed in the world, make sure you are familiar with the most common diseases abroad to avoid illness during your travels.

Schistosomiasis Travel Restrictions

There are currently no travel restrictions related to schistosomiasis, or bilharzia.

How to Avoid Schistosomiasis While Traveling Abroad

The key to avoiding schistosomiasis is avoiding contact with sources of water where the parasite may be found. Drinking water and bath water should be prepared in ways to prevent infection. Following all of the recommended guidelines will help protect you from schistosomiasis.

Ensure your drinking water is safe. Appropriately filter the water to remove organisms or boil it for a minute. Boiling water is a great way to avoid bacteria, viruses, and parasites in the water. Iodine alone will not kill parasites.

Bath water should be boiled for a minute before use or stored in a tank for at least 1-2 days before use to prevent a schistosomiasis infection. Don’t assume the water used for showers at hotels are safe. Many facilities draw water from nearby lakes without treating it.

Avoid playing, swimming, or wading in water where schistosomiasis occurs. Schistosomiasis can be found in any fresh body of water in affected countries: lakes, rivers, canals, streams, etc. Chlorinated swimming pools and the ocean will not infect you with schistosomiasis.

Some people may say that towel drying is a good way to prevent infection. However, this is not an effective way to consistently prevent infection. Towel drying should be used after very brief, accidental contact with potentially contaminated water.

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine to prevent schistosomiasis.

What Happens if a Tourist Gets Sick Abroad With Schistosomiasis

If you suspect you have been infected with schistosomiasis, urine, stool, or blood testing will determine if this is the case. It may take up to 6-8 weeks from the exposure for the infection to be detectable in tests.

For the most accurate results, order testing 6-8 weeks after your last exposure before providing samples for diagnosis. If you have evidence of schistosomiasis in the samples, you will be provided treatment.

Common Treatments for Schistosomiasis

The most recommended drug for treating schistosomiasis is Praziquantel. Other safe and effective drugs may be available too. The only way to get treatment for schistosomiasis is to see a healthcare provider.

Conclusion

Schistosomiasis is a parasitic infection found in many countries around the world. The parasite lives in bodies of fresh water and enters the body through the skin. There is a treatment available once a healthcare provider confirms infection. 

You can prepare yourself financially for any illness or health emergency abroad by finding the right health insurance plan for your needs. 

For more health related travel advice, check out Lyme Disease Travel Advice and Hepatitis A Travel Advice.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I get schistosomiasis in the United States? 

Schistosomiasis is not transmitted within the United States, but you can be infected somewhere else and develop symptoms after returning from travels.

Does Schistosomiasis make you really sick?

Schistosomiasis infection may not have symptoms early on, but complications from the disease can damage organs and become disabling.

Is Schistosomiasis a sexually transmitted disease?

Although urogenital schistosomiasis causes symptoms in the reproductive tract, the flatworm is not transmitted through sexual intercourse. The disease is transmitted through contaminated bodies of freshwater.

Will I recover from schistosomiasis? 

Using safe and effective treatment from a licensed healthcare provider will treat schistosomiasis. The treatment will kill the parasites in your body, although you may need multiple treatments to be completely cured. Early treatment is the best way to prevent long-term complications.

Senior Copywriter at Pacific Prime
Jantra Jacobs is a Senior Copywriter at Pacific Prime with over 10 years of writing and editing experience. She writes and edits a diverse variety of online and offline copy, including sales and marketing materials ranging from articles and advertising copy to reports, guides, RFPs, and more.

Jantra curates and reports on the results of Pacific Prime’s monthly newsletters, as well as manages Pacific Prime’s Deputy Global CEO’s LinkedIn posts. Complemented by her background in business writing, Jantra’s passion for health, insurance, and employee benefits helps her create engaging content - no matter how complex the subject is.

Growing up as a third-culture kid has given her a multicultural perspective that helps her relate to expats and their families while 8 years of working remotely have given her unique insight into hybrid work arrangements and enthusiasm for employee benefits.
Jantra Jacobs
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