kratie town – The National Malaria Center turned its attention from mosquitoes to snails last week in its effort to fight a parasitic disease called schistosomiasis.
The disease is transmitted by a parasitic worm hosted by snails that inhabit the rocky reaches of the Mekong River.
Dr Stefan Hoyer, malaria control officer with the World Health Organization, and representatives of the National Malaria Center performed blood tests last week here on more than 60 terminal patients gathered from all over the province.
Patients who were too ill to make it or who could not travel the distance to the tests are scheduled to travel by boat today to Phnom Penh, Hoyer said last week. Forty patients will be making the trip.
In 1996, when the schistosomiasis program began, an estimated 70 percent of the people in Kratie province had the disease. That figure is now 10 percent, said Dr Doung Socheat, vice director of the National Malaria Center.
It is easy to treat schistosomiasis in early stages with an oral dose of Prozinquantel, which kills the worms, said Doung Socheat. In advanced stages, the disease damages the liver and causes massive bloating of the abdomen. Surgery can correct the damage but blood tests are needed to see if terminal patients are candidates for surgery.
The parasite is found along the Mekong in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces, Doung Socheat said. “The snails can only live in rocky areas,” said Hoyer. “Sand will not support them.”
Besides medical treatment, an important part of the schistosomiasis program is educating people on avoiding transmission, Doung Socheat said. These worms are transmitted from snails in the water to the people swimming or wading in the river.