It‘s the stuff of horror films…tiny larvae burrow through your skin, mature into worms, then use their suckers (pictured) to attach to the walls of your veins where they mate and begin producing thousands of eggs every day. These eggs are carried in the blood, eventually reaching the intestine. When they exit in faeces they are ready to infect new hosts. This is happening in the 250 million people worldwide who have schistosomiasis (also known as bilharzia) – a chronic disease caused by the parasitic flatworm Schistosoma. Although rarely deadly it causes unpleasant side effects and, if left untreated, leads to organ damage. There are lots of different strains of the Schistosoma worm. Researchers have found that the less dangerous ones have abnormal suckers, perhaps affecting their ability to attach to veins. This discovery could help in the development of better drugs or vaccines to treat and prevent flatworm infection.
Written by Sarah McLusky
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