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Liver Problems Seen in Young People with History of Bilharzias Infection

  Written By: Abdul Rahim Al-Showthabi (YEMEN POST STAFF)
  Article Date: February 02,2009


Twenty three year old Jamal Naser didn't notice the extra blood traces in his urine and stool, nor the reason for the strong stomachaches he had to go through. Consequently, such lack of knowledge led him to struggle a chronic progressive liver disease. This is known as liver malfunction which in result led his liver to be unable to function.

Like Nasser tens of thousands of young males' suffering started when they were children, due to swimming, washing and drinking from wells in their villages that were not clean.

Director of family health at the Ministry of Public Health and Population Dr. Ali Al-Midwahi noted that his ministry's statistics revealed that 3 million Yemenis are infected with bilharzias, 20 percent of whom are suffering difficult kind of sicknesses, while 20 percent suffer from liver malfunction.

Al-Midwahi says, "The urinary form of bilharzias is connected with bigger risks for bladder cancer in young people and this disease is not commonly found in Yemen. It is usually spread in tropical areas, especially in areas where water contains numerous snails and other animals that carry the parasite".

Bilharzia is a chronic disease that can harm inner organs and, in young people, interrupt children education, damage growth and cognitive development.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), Yemen and Sudan are the only countries in the Middle Eastern region still suffering from bilharzias, while similar countries such as Egypt and Afghanistan, which were plagued by the disease, have succeeded in eradicating it through continuous anti-bilharzias campaigns.

Yemen started conducting the fourth period of anti-bilharzias campaigns just last month in Taiz, Hadramut, Hajja, Dhamar and Amran governorates.

Meanwhile, WHO regional expert in Yemen Mrs. Hala Ismail told media outlets that the bilharzias drug; called brazicontel, has been approved by the WHO and has no side effects if taken properly.

Fresh water becomes contaminated by bilharzias eggs when infected people urinate or defecate in the water. The eggs hatch, and if certain types of snails are present in the water, the parasites grow and develop inside the snails. The parasite leaves the snail and enters the water where it can survive for about 48 hours.

Doctor Ahmed Al-Awadi, a consultant in the Yemeni German Hospital said that Schistosoma parasites can penetrate in the skin of people who wade, swim, bath, or wash in contaminated water. "Within days after becoming infected, you may develop a rash or itchy skin. Fever, chills, cough, and muscle aches can begin within 1-2 months after being infected," he added.

He continues, “Humans can live on 10 percent of the liver without feeling any complications, which is why liver patients don’t feel the symptoms of the disease, often discovering it in its late stages.”

He further added that treatment of schistosomiasis is a short-course of a fast-acting antibiotic, praziquantel, which kills the worms. However, symptoms vary widely and can take three months to develop.

The most common way of getting bilharzias in developing countries is by wading or swimming in lakes, ponds and other bodies of water which are infected with the disease.

Unfortunately, medical experts in Yemen can only diagnose the disease in its chronic form not in its early stages as bilharzias passes through three consecutive stages.     

According to a new study conducted by a team of researchers at Faculty of Medicine at Sana’a University, young males are more likely to suffer from liver cirrhosis than females and men who are working in qat fields and farms represent the highest rate of people suffering from liver problems.

International experts mention that waterborne infectious diseases, which bring death and illness to thousands of people around the world, could largely be consigned to history by 2015 if global health partnerships integrate their programs.