Female Genital Schistosomiasis (FGS): Sub-Saharan Africa’s Secret Scourge of Girls and Women

By Peter Hotez
Posted: May 6, 2013

PLOS NTDs editor-in-chief Peter Hotez highlights the subject of Female Genital Schistosomiasis in Africa that continues to affect women there heavily, yet receives disproportionally little attention.

Last month, together with Prof. Paul Brindley I wrote about new advances in the study of schistosomiasis caused by Schistosoma haematobium, best known as the cause of urinary tract schistosomiasis and bladder cancer in Africa.  Our article highlighted new animal models, the development of in vitro systems, and the recent completion of the S. haematobium genome leading to recent insights into parasite-induced carcinogenesis.  Compared to the other schistosomes S. haematobium has been relatively neglected by the scientific community in terms of number of citations in the scientific literature, especially since it is the world’s most common schistosome responsible for approximately two-thirds (actually 67%) of the schistosomiasis cases in sub-Saharan Africa where more than 90% of the disease burden occurs.

In this and several other articles published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases since 2009 we have tried to consistently emphasize the disproportionate impact of S. haematobium infection on girls and women.  Schistosome eggs embolize to the  uterus, cervix, and lower genital tract of girls and women to form fibrotic nodules known as “sandy patches” that result in a condition known as female genital schistosomiasis (FGS), which is associated with bleeding and pain (especially during sexual intercourse), as well as social stigma and depression.  I have also written about FGS in the lay press.

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