Bilharzia, also known as schistosomiasis, is a potentially serious parasitic disease that can be contracted through contact with contaminated freshwater. It is a common concern for travelers who are visiting certain tropical and subtropical regions, particularly in Africa, South America, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. The parasite responsible for bilharzia, called Schistosoma, can enter the body through the skin and then travel to the bloodstream where it can cause a range of symptoms including fever, chills, cough, and abdominal pain. If left untreated, bilharzia can lead to long-term health complications such as liver and kidney damage.

Fortunately, there are several measures travelers can take to protect themselves from bilharzia infection. Here are some important tips for staying safe while enjoying freshwater activities in at-risk areas:

1. Avoid Swimming or Wading in Freshwater:
The most effective way to prevent bilharzia is to avoid swimming, wading, or bathing in freshwater sources where the parasite may be present. This includes lakes, rivers, and ponds in affected regions. Instead, opt for chlorinated swimming pools or other well-maintained water sources.

2. Use Protective Clothing:
If swimming in freshwater cannot be avoided, wearing protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts and long pants can help reduce the risk of skin exposure to the parasite. Additionally, waterproof footwear can offer an extra layer of protection.

3. Apply Insect Repellent:
In some cases, the parasite may be carried by certain freshwater snails which release the parasite into the water. To prevent exposure to these snails and their habitats, travelers can apply insect repellent that contains DEET to exposed skin.

4. Seek Local Advice:
Before engaging in any freshwater activities in a high-risk area, it’s a good idea to seek advice from local residents or knowledgeable guides. They may be able to provide valuable insights about safe and unsafe water sources, as well as any ongoing bilharzia outbreaks in the area.

5. Consider Pre-travel Medications:
For travelers who anticipate significant water exposure in at-risk regions, there is the option of taking preventive medication. These medications, such as praziquantel, can help reduce the risk of contracting bilharzia. However, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate course of action and dosage.

6. Get Regular Check-ups:
After returning from a trip to an area with bilharzia risk, it’s a good idea to seek medical attention for a check-up. Even if no symptoms are present, early detection of bilharzia can prevent complications. Some individuals may need to be tested for the presence of the parasite through a simple urine or stool sample.

Ultimately, prevention is key when it comes to avoiding bilharzia infection. By being proactive and mindful of the risks associated with freshwater activities, travelers can minimize their chances of contracting this parasitic disease. With the right precautions and awareness, individuals can enjoy their travels while staying healthy and free from bilharzia.

About the author

Kwame Anane