Edinburgh University scientists say African children at risk of contracting the infection.

Scientists at a Scottish university have called for all African children to be screened for a disease that causes impaired memory and organ damage.

Edinburgh University researchers found high rates of bilharzia, also known as snail fever, in children aged between one in five, challenging a misconception that they are at low risk of exposure.

The disease is transmitted by water and symptoms include stunted growth, damage to internal organs and impaired memory and thought.

It can be treated through a drug known as praziquantel, which is regularly given to older children and adults.

The treatment is cheap and effective, curing infection and arresting the progress of the disease in a single dose.

The researchers believe that young children are at greater risk of exposure than previously thought because they often accompany their mothers to rivers and wells.

Dr Francisca Mutapi, of the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences, who took part in the study, said: "Snail fever is a widespread disease of major health consequence in young children.

"Our study shows that infants are especially vulnerable to infection and should be included in public health treatment programmes."

According to the World Health Organisation, snail fever affects 230 million people each year, most of whom are African. Some 33.5 million people were treated for the disease in 2010.

The Edinburgh University researchers recommended that infants be included in treatment programmes after carrying out studies in Zimbabwe and combining the results with similar surveys in Mali, Sudan, Egypt, Niger and Uganda.

In a recent WHO report, the teams recommended that infants be included in treatment programmes, and their work is informing public health policy.


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