What is bilharzia?

Bilharzia (schistosomiasis) is a disease caused by the bilharzia parasite. About 2 million people are infected with bilharzia in South Africa. There are 2 forms of bilharzia. One affects the bowel while the other affects the bladder. Bilharzia of the bladder is the most common form of bilharzia in children in South Africa.

Eggs of the bladder parasite are passed in the urine. If the urine reaches a source of water, the parasite can infect and multiply in a special snail often found in pools, dams, reservoirs, canals or slow flowing streams. Parasites released from the snail can penetrate the skin of humans. From here the parasites enter the bloodstream and are carried to the bladder. Sometimes they may also reach other organs.

In the bladder wall the parasites cause inflammation, bleeding and eventually scarring. Damage can extend to the rest of the urinary tract, resulting in urinary obstruction with chronic renal failure.

Bilharzia (schistosomiasis) is caused by either Schistosoma haemotobium (bladder parasite) or Schistosoma mansoni (bowel parasite).

Bilharzia of the bladder is common in South Africa.

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