November 28, 1995
Web posted at: 10:30 a.m. EST
From Correspondent Patricia Sabga
CAIRO, Egypt (CNN) -- Egyptian authorities apparently are gaining ground in their multi-pronged war against the endemic disease bilharzia.
Second only to malaria as the world's biggest public health problem, bilharzia is prevalent in 74 countries, but Egypt has been one of its worst victims.
Egypt's vast system of waterways have become the perfect breeding ground for the parasite that causes bilharzia. Nesting in small snails, the parasites bore through the skin of people wading through the waters.
Once inside a human host, the parasites lay eggs, which can cause complications such as liver disease and high blood pressure. Dr. Alan Fenwick of the Theodore Bilharzia Hospital said if a bilharzia patient's high blood pressure goes unchecked, it could cause the veins around the esophagus to burst. In some cases, the patient can bleed to death.
But Egypt is finally turning the tables on the parasite. Health officials have had considerable success in arresting the disease before it gets to a dangerous stage. A decade ago, 40 percent of the population was infected with bilharzia. Today, the infection rate has been reduced to 10 percent.
The battle against bilharzia, also known as schistomiasis, is being waged on several fronts:
Vaccines to combat the disease are still being developed, but officials said they appear promising. Dr. Taha El Khoby of Egypt's Ministry of Health hoped that with treatment and prevention, they would be able to eradicate bilharzia in the next five years. (115K AIFF sound or 115K WAV sound)
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