After successfully completing their research on the possible snail vectors of Schistosomiasis in areas surrounding Lake Mainit, Dr. Joycelyn Jumawan, researcher-professor funded by the Caraga Health Research and Development Consortium (CHRDC), shared the major findings of their study to the communities of Jabonga, Alegria and Kitcharao, in a health awareness forum, October 17.
Schistosomiasis, a parasitic disease caused by blood flukes called Schistosomes, has plagued communities in the region for several years. With the spread of the disease, Dr. Jumawan and her team from Caraga State University studied the different species of snail vectors of Schistosomiasis and mapped out the distribution of these snails in the field using their infection rates from snails infected by furcocercous schistosome like cercariae.
Schistosomiasis, its major findings in Lake Mainit
In the forum, Dr. Jumawan revealed to the participants three snail species harboring schistosome like furcocercous cercariae that could potentially be new vectors for Schistosomiasis in lake Mainit—the Apple Snail (Ampullaria luzonica), Ear snail (Radix rubiginosa), and Pagoda Tiara (Thiara scabra). “These species were not the known snail vectors of Schistosomiasis in the Philippines. However, this finding needs to undergo molecular and ultrastructural studies to fully identify the species of the parasite for a more specific intervention,” adds Jumawan. For years, the residents think that the common snails such as the Oncomelania sp., Biomphalaria sp., and Gyraulus sp. are the snail vectors of the disease.
Using geographical information system (GIS), the study also identified the species to be more abundant in rice fields, canals and creeks, with a higher infection rate observed in the rice fields. “There would be a higher potential for infection if humans will be exposed in the rice fields with the presence of these potential snail vectors,” says Dr. Jumawan. Wearing protective clothing while working in the ricefields can help prevent the infection. She also suggested to provide vaccination to carabaos and cattles in the rice field as these bovines could potentially increase spreading the disease.
Jumawan explained that a person gets infected by the disease through immediate skin contact with fresh water contaminated by the parasite. The larva penetrates the skin through releasing an enzyme which allows it to enter pores of the skin.
Ms. Jomella Torres, the Schisto coordinator of the Department of Health (DOH) Caraga, added that the infection does not come from eating the snails since the parasites can be killed by the acidity of the digestive system. Instead, poor sanitary toilets and water supply lead to the transmission of the disease. The cycle of the infection involves an infected person urinating or excreting feces near fresh water, where the eggs of the schistosome parasites can hatch and enter the snails. The parasite then swims to the water from the snail’s body and penetrates the skin of its host.
Solving the growing number of Schisto cases
According to Dr. Jumawan, Schistosomiasis can always be prevented with the appropriate strategies to successfully manage the disease in the area. She suggested local decision makers and government agencies alike to come up with a multi-component integrated control involving not only mass treatment to humans, wearing protective clothing in the field, improved sanitation, but also bovine treatment and vaccination for livestock.
Ms. Torres expressed full support from DOH Caraga to this campaign. “With the help of officials and health workers in the community as key players in sanitation and mass treatment of the disease, there are solutions to eradicating the spread and transmission of the disease,” says Torres.
Organized by the Caraga Health Research and Development Consortium (CHRDC), in partnership with the Department of Health – Caraga and the Local Government of Jabonga, the Health Education Awareness Forum on Schistosomiasis was attended by 69 participants composed of Barangay Health Workers, Rural Health Units, Barangay Officials and residents from municipalities of Jabonga, Alegria and Kitcharao.
The research project was funded by the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD), with support from CHRDC.