Schistosomes, snails and climate change: Current trends and future expectations

Acta Trop. 2019 Feb;190:257-268. doi: 10.1016/j.actatropica.2018.09.013. Epub 2018 Sep 24.


The exact impact of climate change on schistosomiasis, a disease caused by a blood fluke that affects more than 250 million people mainly in tropical and subtropical countries, is currently unknown, but likely to vary with the snail-parasite species' specific ecologies and the spatio-temporal scale of investigation. Here, by means of a systematic review to identify studies reporting on impacts of climate change on the agents of schistosomiasis, we provide an updated synthesis of the current knowledge about the climate change-schistosomiasis relation. We found that, despite a recent increase in scientific studies that discuss the potential impact of climate change on schistosomiasis, only a handful of reports have applied modelling and predictive forecasting that provide a quantitative estimate of potential outcomes. The volume and type of evidence associated with climate change responses were found to be variable across geographical regions and snail-parasite taxonomic groups. Indeed, the strongest evidence stems from the People's Republic of China pertaining to Schistosoma japonicum. Some evidence is also available from eastern Africa, mainly for Schistosoma mansoni. While studies focused on the northern and southern range margins for schistosomiasis indicate an increase in transmission range as the most likely outcome, there was less agreement about the direction of outcomes from the central and eastern parts of Africa. The current lack of consensus suggests that climate change is more likely to shift than to expand the geographic ranges of schistosomiasis. A comparison between the current geographical distributions and the thermo-physiological limitations of the two main African schistosome species (Schistosoma haematobium and S. mansoni) offered additional insights, and showed that both species already exist near their thermo-physiological niche boundaries. The African species both stand to move considerably out of their "thermal comfort zone" in a future, warmer Africa, but S. haematobium in particular is likely to experience less favourable climatic temperatures. The consequences for schistosomiasis transmission will, to a large extent, depend on the parasites and snails ability to adapt or move. Based on the identified geographical trends and knowledge gaps about the climate change-schistosomiasis relation, we propose to align efforts to close the current knowledge gaps and focus on areas considered to be the most vulnerable to climate change.

Keywords: Africa; Climate change; Global warming; Intermediate host snails; Parasites; Schistosomiasis; Temperature.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Climate Change*
  • Humans
  • Schistosoma haematobium / isolation & purification
  • Schistosoma japonicum / isolation & purification
  • Schistosoma mansoni / isolation & purification
  • Schistosomiasis / epidemiology
  • Schistosomiasis / transmission*
  • Snails / parasitology*