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The worm infestation known as schistosomiasis can affect many parts of the body. Therefore, the symptoms of schistosomiasis include such variation as gastrointestinal issues, urinary problems, fever, and lung problems. The body's own immune reaction to the worms is what causes many of the symptoms rather than the worms directly affecting the body. Two main groups of symptoms of schistosomiasis occur depending on whether the infection is acute or long lasting. Whether the worms infect the intestinal or urogenital tract also affects the diagnosis.
Schistosomiasis is an infection of the body by one of the Schistosoma genus of parasitic worms. Each of the five main species of worm that can potentially cause the disease has its own geographical distribution. Overall, people living in or visiting Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America are most at risk. The worm can cause either an acute infection, where the affected person experiences health problems a few weeks after exposure, or chronic infection, where the symptoms may not occur until years later.
Worms can either primarily affect the intestinal or urinary tract along with the genitals. The initial infection is through contaminated water, where an immature form of the worm, called a larva, breaks through the skin of people washing clothes or swimming. From the skin, the larva makes its way to the lungs. From the lungs, it moves to the liver. In the liver, the worm grows into an adult.
Adult schistosomal worms then use blood vessels radiating from the liver to travel to the intestinal or urinary tract. There, they live in the blood vessels that feed these areas. Most of the eggs they lay stay in one of these places, but some manage to escape the body. The modes of escape are either through the intestinal tract in feces or through the urinary tract in urine.
If the eggs escape in feces, the symptoms of schistosomiasis relate to the intestinal tract. Blood in the feces and diarrhea result. The patient also feels pain in his or her abdominal area. Laboratory analysts can detect the presence of eggs in the feces as part of a diagnosis.
When the eggs come out of the urinary tract, the urine can also contain blood. The infected person may also feel pain when urinating. A laboratory can also find eggs in the urine.
As well as problems directly with the urinary tract, the eggs and worms can also cause issues with the genitals and reproductive tracts in women in particular. Sexual intercourse may be painful, and the worms may cause sores in the vagina and cervical areas. Unusual vaginal bleeding is another one of the symptoms of schistosomiasis. In men, the prostate and other areas of the reproductive tract can become infected.
More generalized symptoms caused by the infestation include fever, unusual tiredness, and achy joints or muscles. Skin may also break out in a rash as part of an allergic reaction to the presence of the worm eggs in the body. When the worms travel through the lungs, they can also affect the ability of the person to breathe properly or result in a cough.
Chronic cases of schistosomiasis typically include some of these generalized symptoms, but long-term infection can be more dangerous to health. The parasites can adversely affect the ability of organs to function. The liver can become enlarged, as can the spleen. The organ damage, can, over time, also result in cancer development.