Water Borne Disease “Bilharzia” Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Bilharzia also known as schistisomiasis is water borne disease caused by a parasite. The parasite belongs to family of flatworm called Schistisoma. This disease is mainly found in developing countries having tropical or subtropical climate. There are many species of schistisomes, of these Schistisoma mansoni, S. hematobium and S.japonicum are three most common human pathogens. Worldwide over 200 million people are affected with bilharzia. The disease is common in southern and northern Africa and countries of East Asia. The parasite enters in skin when a person comes in contact with fresh water that is contaminated with human feces and urine containing the germs.

After entering through the skin the parasite travels in blood vessel and settles in intestine or urinary bladder to produce symptoms. Swimmers itch, fever, fatigue, cough, muscles pain, chills, diarrhea, abdominal pain, blood in urine are some of the symptoms of Bilharzia. The disease is chronic and if left untreated can cause damage to liver, intestine and various other organs. Bilharzia once detected can be treated with modern medicines. Certain home remedies can also be used as an adjuvant therapy.

Causes of Bilharzia:

Bilharzia is a parasitic disease mainly affecting people living in subtropical and tropical region.

People living in countries like Middle East, Africa, South America, Caribbean island are most affected. The disease is prevalent among millions of people living in this geographical area. The disease was first described by Theodor Bilharz in 1851 and hence it is called Bilharzia. Different species of schistosoma (parasite) are found in different parts of world. The main transmission mode is through fresh water. Transmission occurs when fresh water resource such as lakes, rivers, and ponds gets contaminated with feces and urine of an infected person. When a healthy person comes in contact with such contaminated water, the parasite makes an entry into his skin. From skin it travels in the blood vessel and circulates in lungs, liver and finally settles in blood vessel supplying intestine and urinary bladder. It then gets matured and hatches eggs. These eggs give rise to various manifestation of Bilharzia. Snails living in the fresh water are intermittent host or are carriers. Certain form of lifecycle takes place in snail body. The larva is then released in the fresh water which can penetrate in human skin. Poverty, lack of public sanitation, living in unhygienic conditions, not being aware of the risk are some of the factors that are responsible for the spread of disease.

Bilharzia Symptoms:

Once the Bilharzia parasite enters in the skin of an exposed person, it produces an itchy rash at the entry point. This is often called swimmer’s itch. The transient urticarial skin reaction is often called Katayam fever. It develops mainly among people who visit in endemic areas. Itching spontaneously subsides within few days. After one or two months, the infected person experiences fever, chills, cough, pain in abdomen, intermittent diarrhea or blood stained stool and blood in urine.

In chronic Bilharzia it is the egg of the parasite that produces the symptoms. Actually the body reacts to the worm’s eggs that are hatched in liver, intestine and bladder. If left untreated patient may develop several complications involving liver, spleen and urinary bladder. Suffering from schistosoma parasite for long duration can increase the risk of bladder cancer and infertility.

Children are often affected with Bilharzia. They are known to suffer from anemia, growth retardation, and difficulty in school performance.

Diagnosis and Treatment:

Diagnosis of Bilharzia is based on demonstration of eggs in stool and urine. It may also be obvious in rectal and bladder biopsy. In many cases repeated stool and urine examination is required. Blood test is also sometime done for diagnosis.


Bilharzia can be treated with medications. There are effective medications against the parasite that may completely annihilate the pathogen from the body. Reinfection is possible if the patient gets exposed to infected water once again. Hence after every 3 to 6 months patient has to reexamine his stool and urine samples for the eggs. Besides the use of conventional medicines, home remedies also act as adjuvant therapy in treating the condition. Garlic, pumpkin seeds, turmeric, Acacia myrrh etc are some of the natural herbs that may help to expel the parasite with their antibacterial and anti helminthic properties.