The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that snail fever is affecting Africa, which has already affected about 56 million women and girls. The disease, technically known as schistosomiasis of the female genitalia (FGS), is caused by a parasite that releases snails in the water, settles in the female body and produces eggs that invade the uterus and can be deadly, The Telegraph reports.
According to a British newspaper, an invisible enemy attacks in the waters of the Kafu River in Zambia, South Africa. After the parasites leave the snail, they embark on a journey in search of a host where they can settle. When they sink into human skin, they travel through the bloodstream until they are able to lay eggs in the cervix, eventually blocking the fallopian tubes, which can lead to infertility or ectopic pregnancy.
In extremely severe cases, the disease can lead to death, as it can lead to lesions that quadruple the risk of HIV infection and can also lead to cervical and bladder cancer in victims.
Although more common in women, snail fever affects men as well, resulting in approximately 280,000 deaths worldwide each year. At a time when no vaccine is yet available against the disease, it is already possible to treat genital schistosomiasis and avoid serious consequences. In some parts of Zambia, many teens receive annual preventive treatment with praziquantel, a form of chemotherapy that kills insects, thus complying with WHO recommendations.
Kasika Makwakti, a nurse in Maramba, Zambia, is so affected by snail fever that she admits the team she works with never heard of the disease before 2020, so health professionals are starting to do it now. Tests to try to detect the disease as soon as possible. “Last month, we examined 48 women and one already had cervical cancer,” Mkwakti told the Telegraph.
Elimination is possible
It is important to diagnose the disease at an early stage so that the treatment can be more effective, but most people are not aware that they are ill, as the symptoms can take many years to develop. When they appear, patients experience swelling in the area of the body where the worms settle, fever, diarrhea, blood in the urine, genitals, and muscle aches.
According to Zambia’s WaterAid NGO, 6.4 million people – one-third of the country’s 18 million people – do not have access to safe drinking water and more than 2,000 children under the age of five die each year. This condition causes people to look for drinking water in the river, which increases the risk of diseases like snail fever or cholera.
However, eradication of schistosomiasis of the female genitalia is hoped for. Japan and Tunisia are the two countries that have done this successfully, while Brazil, Morocco, Egypt and the Caribbean islands are also making great strides in this direction. According to public health experts, the key to stopping the spread of the disease is to invest in snail control, improve access to clean water and continue to provide preventive chemotherapy to school-age children.
For now, one of the main obstacles to treatment in Zambia is the lack of information about snail fever in the population, which often confuses FGS with a sexually transmitted disease.