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Antigua: Parasitic worm poses cancer threat to children

By Antigua Observer

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(ANTIGUA OBSERVER) – The discovery of a parasitic worm that can cause some stomach cancers has prompted health officials here to try to isolate it in young children living and attending schools in Potters, Scotts Hill and neighbouring communities.

At a Zone II parent teachers meeting on Tuesday night at the Potters Primary School, parents whose children are attending both public and private schools were told that the parasitic flatworm called schistosome was recently discovered in the communities and tests will be conducted on randomly selected children from grade three to six to identify and treat the threat.

While some parents told OBSERVER media they are very fearful that the parasite could be possibly living in their children, they find comfort in knowing that the Ministry of Health is acting to curtail and treat the parasite.

“Parents could have been easily kept in the dark about this one, but, I have to commend the Health and Education ministries for the full disclosure so we can confront and treat the issues. An ounce of prevention is always better than a pound of cure,” one father said after the meeting.

The Centre for Disease Control CDC said schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia or snail fever is a disease caused by parasitic worms and there are more than 200 million people infected worldwide. The disease is said to be second only to malaria as the most devastating parasitic disease. Schistosomiasis is considered one of the Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).

The parasites that cause schistosomiasis live in certain types of freshwater snails. You can become infected when your skin comes in contact with contaminated freshwater.

In 2016, local tests confirmed two cases.

The test for the worms will include a blood test for antigens, urine test for infection and stool test for larva eggs.

Praziquantel treats the disease and the Health Ministry committed to importing the drug to treat the parasite since the usual drugs cannot eradicate it.

If left untreated, the worm can attach to the bladder wall that can cause cancer.

Symptoms include vomiting, upset stomach, children could experience a tickling sensation in the buttocks and blood laced urination.

The father added, “Sure, our children will experience some discomfort from being prodded and poked to get tested but it is a small price to pay to cure cancer.”

According to the World Health Organisation, estimates show that at least 206.4 million people required preventive treatment in 2016. The preventive treatment, which should be repeated over a number of years, will reduce and prevent morbidity.

Schistosomiasis transmission has been reported from 78 countries. People become infected when larval forms of the parasite, released by freshwater snails, penetrate the skin during contact with infested water.

Transmission occurs when people suffering from schistosomiasis contaminate freshwater sources with their excreta containing parasite eggs, which hatch in water.

In the body, the larvae develop into adult schistosomes. Adult worms live in the blood vessels where the females release eggs. Some of the eggs are passed out of the body in the faeces or urine to continue the parasite’s lifecycle. Others become trapped in body tissues, causing immune reactions and progressive damage to organs.

Schistosomiasis is prevalent in tropical and subtropical areas, especially in poor communities without access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. It is estimated that at least 91.4 percent of those requiring treatment for schistosomiasis live in Africa.

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