Getting rid of snails is effective at stopping snail fever

person holding snail

Amphibious and aquatic snails like this one are a weak link in the life cycle of parasites that cause snail fever. 

Susanne Sokolow

To stop snail fever, control the snails.

That’s the takeaway of a new study of snail fever, or schistosomiasis, a tropical disease that affects more than 250 million people worldwide. It’s caused by a water-borne parasite that reproduces inside some snails. Parasite larvae burrow through people’s skin and can cause infertility, cognitive problems and even cancer. Today, most countries manage the disease with a drug that kills the parasite in human hosts. Some nations also control snail populations to hamstring the parasite’s life cycle, but that’s a less popular approach.

But snail control turns out to be more effective than drugs for curbing snail fever, researchers report July 21 in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. The scientists compared a range of disease management strategies in 83 countries in the last century that included killing snails, using drugs or changing infrastructure (such as sanitation services). Projects using snail control cut disease by over 90 percent; those without it, by less than 40 percent.

The researchers suggest a blend of drug therapy and snail management to eradicate disease in the future. 

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