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Schistosomiasis, neglected tropical diseases and climate change


Another recent podcast here from Australias ABC about Neglected Tropical Diseases. From their website: More than 1.5 billion of the worlds poorest people are affected by a range of bacterial and worm based diseases including trachoma, river blindness and lymphatic filariasis. They are just some of the 15 so-called neglected tropical diseases, which are diseases of poverty. But despite the numbers they affect, and their health and social consequences, these diseases attract less than one per cent of the total health funding for the developing world. The non-government organisation Sightsavers works in developing countries to overcome avoidable blindness and advocate for people with disabilities. Simon Bush outlines why the group is lobbying for NTDs to be incorporated into the eight Millennium Development Goals. SO whats the link to global warming you might ask? Take schistosomiasis for example.

Schistosomiasis Life Cycle Also known as bilharzia, bilharziosis or snail fever, schistosomiasis is a parasitic disease caused by several species of tremotodes (flukes) a parasitic worm of the genus Schistosoma. Although it has a low mortality rate, schistosomiasis often is a chronic illness that can damage internal organs It impairs growth and cognitive development in children, and is the second most socioeconomically devastating parasitic disease after malaria.

The parasite has a complex life cycle (see diagram), part of which occurs within the bodies of freshwater snails. Humans become infected when they come in contact with contaminated water (often during swimming or bathing). The worms then mature, mate and release eggs from the bladder or bowel. When such contaminated effluent reaches freshwater, the life cycle begins again. Several factors influence the risk to humans. The classic one is the availability of freshwater inhabited by snails, a factor that produced a massive increase in the number of cases in Egypt following the well-intentioned but poorly-thought-out mega-engineering projects of the latter part of the last century (such as the Aswan dam). Possible changes due to global warming may also be important. One study published in the March 2007 issue of Advances in Climate Change Research suggests that increasing temperatures could increase numbers of both the Schistosome worm and its host the Oncomelania snail. As a result of current warming, the researchers found an increase in the length of time environmental conditions were ideal for the growth of both snail and worm, putting people at risk for longer. They also found that there had already been a northward migration of suitable growth conditions by up to two latitudes. Temperature increases had shortened the length of the reproductive cycle for snails and worms, leading to an increase in the numbers of both. Chinas current projects to divert water from the south to the north could increase the spread of the disease a process that might accelerate in the future due to climate change-driven drought.