Home » Health Services » Untreated Bilharzia Is Deadly

It is a known fact that untreated bilharzia in children can cause poor growth and learning difficulty which hinders brain development. Due to such effects, Government has already embarked on the third edition of mass drug administration for bilharzia to every child between five and 15 years in bilharzia endemic districts of Zimbabwe.

However, untreated bilharzia has worse negative effects in adults.

Bilharzia, which is scientifically termed Schistosomiasis or snail fever, is defined by the online medical dictionary as a type of infection that is caused by parasitic worms which live in fresh water.

Some of the fresh waters may include rivers, ponds, unprotected wells and lakes in subtropical and tropical regions worldwide.

The parasites are called schostosma.

Professor Joseph Midzi from the University of Zimbabwe’s Department of Medical Microbiology said the parasites can severely damage the reproductive system of both men and women if the disease is not treated for a long time.

“When the schostosma enters a human body, it can move to dominate in any body parts depending on the flow of blood,” said Professor Midzi in a sideline interview during a recent bilharzia training workshop in Bulawayo.

“Wherever the parasitic worm dominates it excretes some eggs that damage body tissues.

“The longer the schostosma stays in a human body, the higher its chances of producing eggs that can pierce through body tissues on any organ.

“In a female reproductive system, the presence of the parasitic worm in the fallopian tube causes miscarriages,

pre-term delivery, infertility and menstrual disorder as well as ectopic pregnancy.”

Ectopic pregnancy is when an embryo implants somewhere other than the uterus. This requires emergency medical attention, however, in most cases the baby dies.

In a normal pregnancy the ovary releases an egg into the fallopian tube. If the egg meets with the sperm the fertilised egg moves into the uterus to attach on the uterus lining and continues to grow for the next nine months.

Professor Midzi said if the schostosma eggs are present in the woman’s private parts, they cause coital bleeding lesions that eventually result in anaemia due to continued blood loss.

“The appearance of the eggs in an ovary also causes infertility, retarded puberty, menstrual disorders and early menopause.

“If they get into the uterus, their damage can cause the same effects as of the fallopian tube,” he added.

He said due to the damage that these eggs cause on the tissue cells, they can increase the chances of HIV virus transmission.

“In the vaginal walls, the schostosma eggs can cause damage within vaginal walls creating an easy path for HIV virus to penetrate when the person indulges in a sexual encounter with an infected person,” added Professor Midzi.

According to Feldmeretal 1991, 1995, several studies have shown that up to 75 percent of women living in endemic areas for urinary Schistosomiasis suffer from Female Genital Schistosomiasis (presence of the schostosma in the female reproductive system).

On the other hand, the same applies to males.

Untreated bilharzia in males can cause infertility or prostate cancer if the schostosoma eggs damage the tissues in the prostate.

The schostosoma eggs also damage the female’s private parts and increase the chances of HIV transmission.

This normally happens if the eggs also damage the tissue cells in the urethra of the male reproductive organ.

If the parasitic eggs are present in the scrotum, they can weaken the strength of the sperms.

According to MNT Knowledge Centre, untreated schistosomiasis can cause bleeding of the bladder, ulceration of the bladder, liver damage, cancer and eventually kidney failure.

“When the urinary system is infected there is a significantly higher risk in adults of developing bladder cancer. Schistosomiasis may infect the gastrointestinal tract and the liver.

“The types of signs and symptoms with schistosomiasis depend on the species of fluke (worm) and the stage of infection.

“In the majority of cases signs and symptoms are the result of the body’s reaction to the worms’ eggs, and not the worms themselves,” highlighted the MNT statement.

MNT Knowledge Centre also adds that some of the early symptoms of bilharzia are fatigue, elevated body temperature or fever, chills, cough, muscle aches, weight loss, liver enlargement and spleen enlargement.

Some of the symptoms may come later on such as blood in urine or faeces.

Source : The Herald