Schistosomiasis, or bilharzia, is a parasitic disease caused by trematode flatworms of the genus Schistosoma. Larval forms of the parasites, which are released by freshwater snails, penetrate the skin of people in the water.
In the body, the larvae develop into adult schistosomes, which live in the blood vessels. The females release eggs, some of which are passed out of the body in the urine or faeces. Others are trapped in body tissues, causing an immune reaction.
In urinary schistosomiasis, there is progressive damage to the bladder, ureters and kidneys. In intestinal schistosomiasis, there is progressive enlargement of the liver and spleen, intestinal damage, and hypertension of the abdominal blood vessels.
Control of schistosomiasis is based on drug treatment, snail control, improved sanitation and health education.