Schistosoma mansoni causes morbidity in human beings, with the highest prevalence in rural sub-Saharan Africa. Prolonged S. mansoni infection with egg deposition in intestinal blood vessels leads to liver and spleen enlargement, and thus chronic morbidity. The objective of this study was to assess whether preschool-aged children develop severe S. mansoni-related morbidity. Parasitological, clinical, and ultrasonographic examinations were carried out in 916 preschool-aged children in five schistosomiasis-endemic districts (Bugiri, Buikwe, Jinja, Mayuge, and Namayingo) along the Lake Victoria shoreline in east-central Uganda. Anaemia and anthropometry measurements were also taken. Using the Kato-Katz technique on one stool sample collected on three consecutive days, 74.9% (686/916) were found infected with S. mansoni; the majority were lightly infected (57.9%), while 22.7% and 19.4% were moderately and heavily infected, respectively. The overall geometric mean intensity (GMI) of infected children was 294.2 eggs per gram faeces. Mayuge and Jinja districts had the highest (51.2%) and lowest (2.2%) number of infected children, respectively. Hookworm infection was found in 7.8% (71/916) of the children. Both liver and spleen were significantly more enlarged in the infected children than in the uninfected children (p < 0.0005), as measured by ultrasonography. Physical palpation of the spleen was more often detected in the uninfected children. A significantly (p < 0.0005) higher proportion of S. mansoni-positive children were anaemic (359/686; 52.3%) compared to the children who had no eggs in their stool samples (81/230; 35.2%). Schistosoma mansoni infection did not have any severe effect on the nutrition status of preschool-aged children. Neither infected nor uninfected children were found to be underweight or stunted. Liver fibrosis with distinct Symmer's 'pipe stems' was found in a few heavily-infected children (0.3%). In a linear multivariable regression analysis, age of the child, anaemia, liver fibrosis, and size of the left liver lobe were associated with S. mansoni intensity of infection (adjusted R² = 0.11; p < 0.0005). Our results demonstrate that S. mansoni-related morbidity does develop in children less than six years of age, and that older children (37⁻60 months) are at higher risk (regression coefficient 0.33; p <0.0005) compared to younger ones (12⁻36 months). We recommend that preschool-aged children be included in the target population for schistosomiasis mass treatment so as to prevent the childhood chronic form of schistosomiasis.
Keywords: Lake Victoria shoreline; Schistosoma mansoni; Uganda; morbidity; preschool-aged children.