Objectives: To summarize new knowledge on the range of disease due to chronic schistosomiasis and examine the debilitating burden of both light and heavy infection; to outline goals of disease prevention, including current age-targeted strategies and more extended programmes aimed at preventing transmission.
Methods: A systematic search of 2004-2007 papers via PUBMED and related databases using 'schistosom' and disability- or treatment-related subject headings. Reports were independently reviewed for inclusion.
Results: Sixty-eight papers met review objectives. These suggest new evidence for a causative link between schistosome infection, antiparasite inflammation, and risk for anaemia, growth stunting and undernutrition in affected populations, as well as exacerbation of co-infections and impairment of cognitive development and work capacity. Formal quality-of-life assessment defines a significant 9.5-24% disability with the most aggressive schistosome species, Schistosoma japonicum.
Discussion: Schistosomiasis represents a serious but under-recognized disease burden for many developing countries. Infection (and not intensity of infection) should be considered the defining feature of morbidity formation. Links between infection and long-term disabilities reduce the chances of combating rural poverty. Changes in our appreciation of schistosomiasis-related disease burden means it is no longer appropriate to leave infected persons untreated, and newer approaches to control should focus on preventing transmission.