Schistosomiasis is a disease caused by parasitic worms. According to the CDC, more than 200 million people are infected worldwide. In terms of impact, this disease is second only to malaria as the most devastating parasitic disease. The parasites that cause Schistosomiasis live in certain types of fresh water snails. The snails carry the parasite into the water. Water is contaminated by Schistosoma eggs when infected people urinate or defecate in the water. The eggs then hatch. If certain types of fresh water snails are present in the water, the parasites develop and multiply in the snail. The parasite eventually leaves the snail where it can live for up to 48 hours.
The parasite can penetrate the skin when a person bathes, swims, or washes in contaminated water. Within weeks the the parasite matures into adult worms, living in the blood vessels of the body where the females produce eggs. The eggs can travel throughout the body. It is important to note that the symptoms of schistosomiasis are caused by the body’s reaction to the eggs produced by the worms, not by the worms themselves. People with schistosomiasis may experience muscle aches, fever, chills, and cough. Most people don’t even have symptoms at this early of the phase. As time goes on, the adult eggs travel into the intestine, liver or bladder, causing serious health issues. After years of infection without treatment, the parasite can cause inflammation and scarring.