Snail fever: the deadly disease that has infected more than 56 million women worldwide
The World Health Organization warns of an outbreak in Africa of this parasitic pathology that has no specific symptoms.
Snail fever puts the African continent on alert. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that it has affected about 56 million women and girls. The disease is caused by a parasite that infects the female reproductive system and can be fatal.
Technically known as female genital schistosomiasis (FGS), this pathology is caused by a worm that leaves the snail when in fresh water, settles in the body and produces eggs that in women attack the colon, uterus and fallopian tubes. Gustavo Tato Borges, acting chairman of the National Association of Public Health Physicians (ANMSP), explains to NiT that “it is a disease that mainly affects women, with consequences for the ability to conceive and, in extreme cases, it can even lead to death due to an increased risk of developing uterine and bladder cancer and HIV infection.“.
According to the British newspaper “Telegraph”, it is in the waters of the Kafue River, in Zambia, in southern Africa, that the invisible enemy is attacking. After the parasites leave the snails, they start searching for a host where they can settle down. When they find human skin, they penetrate the bloodstream where they travel until they are able to insert eggs into the cervix, eventually blocking the fallopian tubes.
“One of the problems with this disease is that it has no specific symptoms” refers to the public health doctor. “There are cases where the diagnosis takes several years, where people go to the healthcare system with swelling in different areas of the body, fever and even with blood in the urine.”
Despite being more common in women, snail fever also affects men and causes about 280,000 deaths a year worldwide.
Kasika Mkwakti, a nurse in Maramba, a region of Zambia hard hit by snail fever, admitted that the team she works with had never heard of the disease before 2020, so it is only now that health professionals have started doing that. try to detect the infection as soon as possible. “Last month we examined 48 women and one already had cervical cancer,” she told the British newspaper.
Illness can be treated and cured
It is possible to treat and prevent snail fever. In some regions of Zambia, where the disease has developed very strongly, young people receive annual preventive treatment. In accordance with WHO recommendations, they receive praziquantel, an active substance used to treat worm and parasite infections.
Children are a very vulnerable audience to this pathology. “The fact that there is a prevention program for school-age minors signals that the situation is not good,” said Precious Kaubula, WHO’s technical director in Zambia, quoted by The Telegraph.
Low access to drinking water is pointed out as one of the causes of this endemic disease. Scarcity causes people to seek drinking water from rivers, which increases the risk of getting diseases such as snail fever or cholera.
Gustavo Tato Borges explains this to NiT it is possible to eradicate the disease: the method “goes through water quality control, ensures that the water for domestic use is treated and control of snail pests and chemoprophylaxis in school-age children”, he says. This strategy can help eradicate this pathology, as happened, for example, in countries such as Japan or Tunisia. “In Portugal, fortunately, this condition was not detected, especially due to the best quality level and availability of controlled drinking water,” says the specialist.