I was recently contacted by my friend Karen who shared how she had been feeling ill for months and how to her utter shock was diagnosed with Bilharzia! Shocking, right? And it all began after enjoying water sports during a visit to one of the riverside resorts in Ada. Here’s her harrowing experience..

 I took this photo last year when visiting the resort.
I took this photo last year when visiting the resort.

What water activities did you partake in at the resort?

I went Jet Skiing at one of the Ada resorts in June 2014.

When did you first noticing any ill effects?

Back in September last year, I remember going to the hospital because I was feeling lightheaded and tired. I have had various symptoms between September and June this year and have been back a few times.

What diagnosis did the initial doctors give you? What tests did they run?

They did some iron tests and saw that although my haemoglobin levels were fine, some of my iron stores were low. They put me on iron supplements for a month but it didn’t imrpove. I went back to the same hospital about 4 times with various symptoms at different times (tiredness then twice with stomach cramps and finally shortness of breath and chest pains). Each time they ran some tests/scans but ultimately found nothing wrong so sent me home, sometimes with painkillers.

What made you decide to try the last doctor? 

My last appointment at the first hospital was for chest pains and shortness of breath. They ran a CT scan and chest xray but both were clear. I wasn’t feeling any better so decided to see another doctor for a second opinion. It turned out I had a throat infection but the doctor wasn’t sure if that was what was causing the chest pain so treated the infection and asked me to come back if I was still experiencing the chest pain. 

The chest pain went down but I was still feeling the fatigue and occasional shortness of breath. I went for further tests at the same new doctor and she picked up a minor thyroid problem. It needed monitoring more than medication at this stage. About a week after that diagnosis, I passed out one Sunday morning and was having palpitations and chest pains on and off throughout the day. I rested in bed for the day but did not go back to the doctor immediately. It’s quite frustrating to keep going back and without getting answers! About a week later, I went back to the same doctor who diagnosed the thyroid issue. I described what had happened the previous Sunday and she said that did not sound like it was caused by the thyroid issue. She ran another blood test and saw from the results that the foreign bodies in my blood had increased slightly from the previous test. It was at that point that she asked if I had been to Ada before. I almost brushed it off by saying “oh yes, but YEARS ago”. She asked how many years, I told her 3 years and she said it is still possible that I may have picked up bilharzia.

What tests was run this time?

She sent me for a bilharzia screen at MedLab and the blood sample was sent to South Africa so it took two weeks to get the results back.

What was your reaction to the results?

I was shocked because even though I had heard of bilharzia before, I believed that the lake at Ada was bilharzia free. At the same time, I was relieved that I finally had an explanation for how I had been feeling for months.

How expensive was the testing through to treatment?

The test at the lab was 280 cedis. The treatment was roughly 30 cedis a tablet and I was prescribed 6 tablets (the usual dose is 3 tablets but it depends on your weight).

Any positive changes in your health? 

I took the medication on Thursday and have had nausea, headaches and dizziness on some days and felt better on other days. I’ve been told that it’s a side effect of the treatment (with the parasite being killed off and leaving the body). I need to repeat the treatment in a week as directed by the doctor.

Have you informed the hotel of this revelation for them to take some measures to protect its guests?

I spoke to the hotel and they let me know that they would take a sample of the water to get tested at the hospital and would keep me informed.

As at the time of writing this post, my friend hasn’t heard back from the hotel. By publishing this, I am by no means condemning or attacking the resort but rather drawing the attention of river resort revellers to be cautious when entering the water. Hopefully, if the hotel reads this and has the results, they would put in place corrective measures to prevent another occurrence. Bilharzia. Who would have thought?