The health ministry has warned communities in the Kavango West region to avoid river water following an increase in Schistosomiasis cases. School-going children are the most-affected. So far, 608 cases were reported in that region.
The ministry said in a media statement on Wednesday that 173 of those cases were confirmed both clinically and 139 via laboratory tests, while 34 cases are being investigated.
“All the cases were managed as outpatients, and none was hospitalised due to Schistosomiasis,” they said.
Schistosomiasis, also called Bilharzia, is an infectious acute and chronic disease caused by parasitic flatworms, which are transmitted when individuals come into contact with water contaminated with snails that carry the worms.
Six-hundred million people all over the world are at risk, and 200 million are infected. Twenty million of those infected experience severe illness. “The disease is prominent in the Zambezi, Omusati, Kavango East and West, as well as Omusati regions. Schistosomiasis is highly focalised in villages that are near water bodies like perennial rivers in Zambezi and Kavango, and the Calueque canal in Omusati,” stated the health ministry’s executive director Ben Nangombe.
He added that it is common for people to fall ill with Schistosomiasis in Namibia, especially in the regions stated, making it an endemic area. Schistosomiasis is one of the leading causes of severe morbidity in large parts of Africa, Asia and South America. There are two types, namely urinary Schistosomiasis caused by S. haematobium, and intestinal Schistosomiasis caused by S. mansoni, S. japonicum, S. interca/antum, S.mekongi.
S. Hematobium and S. Mansoni cause the types of Schistosomiasis isolated in Namibia so far.
Disease transmission occurs when an infected individual urinates/defecates in water, shedding eggs that proliferate in an intermediated host (snails). Snails then shed infective forms of the parasite called cercariae, which infects individuals who come into contact with the contaminated water through a penetration of the skin.
Those with intestinal schistosomiasis will present abdominal pain, diarrhoea and blood in the stool or urine. Liver enlargement is common in advanced cases. Urogenital Schistosomiasis’ signs and symptoms include blood in urine, which is a classical sign in men.
“In women, urogenital Schistosomiasis may present with genital lesions, vaginal bleeding and pain during sexual intercourse,” shared Nangombe.
He added: “People exhibiting signs and symptoms of the disease should seek medical attention, as the disease is not self-limiting. Maintain good hygiene practices when urinating and defecating in intact toilet facilities. Avoid swimming in freshwater bodies like lakes and rivers. Ensure to drink safe purified water.”