Schistosomiasis is an infection caused by a parasite that is most commonly found in tropical regions. The infection is caused by the larval forms of parasitic worms, which can penetrate the skin of people swimming or bathing in contaminated water.2 Once through the skin, the larvae can move to the liver and can begin the next stage of their lifecycle.1 The parasites' eggs are transmitted in the urine and faeces of infected people.2
Schistosomiasis is found in contaminated rivers, fresh water lakes, ponds and streams in Africa, South America and parts of the Middle and Far East.1,2
You may be at risk of schistosomiasis infection if you have contact with fresh water in places where the parasite is common, such as Malawi, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and some parts of Brazil.1
There should be no risk of infection if you are swimming in a well-maintained swimming pool as the chlorine used will kill the worms, and you also cannot get the infection from swimming in the sea.1
People infected with schistosomiasis may not have any symptoms, but early symptoms can include itchy skin and a rash, fever, diarrhoea, chills, a cough or aching muscles.1
After about 8–12 weeks inside the body, the parasites are fully grown and can remain in the body for 2–8 years. Later symptoms of infection can include blood in urine and faeces, pain when passing urine, changes in patterns of using the toilet, stomach pain and lumps or bumps on the genitals.2
If schistosomiasis is not treated, it can cause longer-lasting health problems such as stomach, bladder, kidney or liver issues.1,2
Because schistosomiasis may not always have symptoms, you should be checked by a doctor if you have recently been in fresh water in places where the disease is common.1
To minimise risk of catching schistosomiasis, avoid contact with fresh water rivers and lakes in places where the parasite might be present. Before you travel, you should check if there is a risk of schistosomiasis in the place(s) you are visiting.1,2
Schistosomiasis can be treated with a medication called praziquantel.2 If you think you or your child might have been in contact with contaminated water, you should speak to your GP or other healthcare professional.
If you have any questions or concerns about exposure to schistosomiasis, please speak to your doctor or a travel health practitioner for more information.
Make sure you contact your GP or travel health practitioner in plenty of time before you travel to discuss the ways you can help to keep yourself healthy whilst away. You should try and contact them at least 4–6 weeks before your trip.
After your trip, you should contact your GP if you develop a fever or notice any other unusual symptoms.
Date of preparation: November 2017