Mortality and Morbidity in human history: Urinary Schistosomiasis

There is a parasitic worm that can be spread by contact with water contaminated with infected urine or feces or via snails. The worms develop and reproduce in snails and then can live in freshwater on their own for about two days.

If they are able to penetrate someone’s skin, they set up camp in the blood vessels and make lots of eggs. Some of the eggs migrate to the bladder and bowels where they can then pass back to the outside world but not before causing inflammation to the affected areas. Upon first contact, it can cause a rash. In a month or two, fever, chills, coughing and aches can develop. If left untreated, the worm can cause liver damage and in rare cases eggs can migrate to the brain and spinal cord and cause seizures or paralysis and the body tries to rid itself of the attacker.

ancient Egyptian fishermen

Ancient Egyptian fishermen

The Schistosoma haematobium worm can affect other parts of they body but my particular interest here is when it affects the urinary system. In ancient Egypt, it appears to have been a common affliction among fishermen. Initially, it causes hematuria, or blood in the urine. There is reason to believe that it may have been regarded as a “virile menstruation” because of the relative lack of information in medical papyri and because it disproportionately affected young men.






Medicine in the Days of the Pharaohs by Bruno Halioua and Bernard Ziskind



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