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Schistosomiasis

What is schistosomiasis?

Schistosomiasis is a disease people can get when they are exposed to contaminated freshwater (such as rivers and lakes) in certain parts of Africa, South America, the Middle East, Asia, and the Caribbean. Sometimes people with schistosomiasis do not feel sick. Early symptoms can include rash and itchy skin, fever, chills, cough, or muscle aches. If schistosomiasis is not treated, it can cause serious health problems later.

Who is at risk?

Travelers going to certain parts of Africa, South America, the Middle East, Asia, and the Caribbean are at risk for schistosomiasis (Map 3-14). High-risk areas include rivers and other water sources in sub-Saharan Africa, such as the Banfora region of Burkina Faso, areas populated by the Dogon people in Mali, Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika, Lake Victoria, the Omo River, the Zambezi River, and the Nile River. Many of these areas are popular tourist destinations.

What can travelers do to prevent schistosomiasis?

There is no vaccine or medicine to prevent schistosomiasis. If you are in an area where schistosomiasis occurs, you should avoid having your skin exposed to freshwater sources, such as lakes, rivers, ponds, and wetlands. If you get potentially contaminated freshwater on your skin during a trip to areas where schistosomiasis occurs, talk to your doctor about getting tested and treated.

  • Avoid wading, swimming or bathing in freshwater in countries where schistosomiasis occurs (see map).
    • Swimming in the ocean or in well-chlorinated pools is safe.
  • If you have to use freshwater, such as lake or river water, for bathing, treat the water in one of 3 ways to avoid infection:
    • Filtering water with fine mesh filters (pore size of 30 μm or smaller) will remove the parasite.
    • Heating bathing water to 50˚C for 5 minutes will kill the parasite.
    • Keeping water in a storage tank for at least 24 hours before use will kill the parasite.

 

If you feel sick and think you may have schistosomiasis:

  • Talk to your doctor or nurse if you feel seriously ill, especially if you have a fever.
    • Tell them about your travel.
      • Describe in detail where and for how long you traveled, and explain that you may have been exposed to contaminated water.
    • Ask if you need to be tested for schistosomiasis.
  • For more information about medical care abroad, see Getting Health Care Abroad and a list of International Joint Commission-accredited facilities.

Traveler Information

Clinician Information

 
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