Public Health England (PHE) and the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) are aware of reports of ‘Schistosoma haematobium’ infection, associated with exposure to the Cavu river in Southern Corsica, France.
In total, 11 cases have been confirmed in people from France and Germany, visiting the river between 2011 and 2013. Four of the six confirmed cases in France were children.
‘Schistosoma haematobium’ is a parasitic infection which causes a disease called schistosomiasis (also known as bilharzia). It is normally associated with tropical regions of the world and this is the first report of locally acquired schistosomiasis in France.
Anyone who comes into contact with the parasite in contaminated water can be infected. Most infections do not cause any symptoms at first, but long-term, untreated schistosomiasis can cause serious liver, bladder and kidney problems. The initial symptom people may notice is an itchy rash, but more symptoms can develop a few weeks later which usually include bloody urine and diarrhoea, coughing, fever and headache, joint and muscle pain, tiredness and weight loss.
Pain can also be experienced in the upper right hand part of the abdomen, caused by the liver and spleen getting larger as the body tries to fight the parasite.
PHE and NaTHNaC urge anyone who visited, and swam or waded in the Cavu river between June and September in 2011 to 2013, to contact their GP so they can be screened for the infection and receive treatment if required.
Dr Jane Jones, head of travel-associated infections at PHE said:
We strongly advise travellers to avoid, wading, swimming or bathing in freshwater in areas where schistosomiasis is known to occur. Insect repellent and towel drying do not protect against infection. Chlorine kills the parasite, so swimming in properly maintained swimming pools should not pose a risk and swimming in the sea is also not a risk for schistosomiasis.
Dr Dipti Patel, joint director of NaTHNaC, said:
There is no vaccine or medication to protect against schistosomiasis, so avoiding activities in rivers, lakes or other freshwater contact in risk areas is the only way to prevent infection. As schistosomiasis may not cause symptoms, anyone who thinks they could have been exposed to infection should seek medical advice.
Notes to editors
- More information on Schistosomiasis on the NaTHNaC website
- Further information on this incident for travellers to Corsica
- Travellers can check the country information pages on the NaTHNaC website for Schistosomiasis risk areas in the country they are visiting
- The National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) promotes standards in travel medicine, providing travel health information for health professionals and the public. NaTHNaC is commissioned by Public Health England.
- Public Health England’s mission is to protect and improve the nation’s health and to address inequalities through working with national and local government, the NHS, industry and the voluntary and community sector. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health.