You won’t always get Bilharzia if you swim in Lake Victoria and, if you do, it may take weeks, months or even twenty years for you to show symptoms.
Bilharzia (also known as Schistosomiasis or snail fever) can be horrible. You will feel under the weather and nauseous for weeks.
The best advice? Many people would just never swim in Lake Victoria or the River Nile but my tips to avoid Bilharzia are:
- Swim from a boat or pontoon, or at least in an area away from the reed beds where the Bilharzia snail’s larvae hatch. It’s these larvae that get into your bloodstream and make you ill.
- If you crunch on a bed of tiny snail shells as you walk into the Lake, that’s a sure sign Bilharzia’s around.
- After your swim, give yourself a good all-over scrub in the shower. Best to do this within 20 minutes of getting out of the lake.
- My friend Julia says ‘enjoy your swim! And afterwards, give the soles of your feet a good hard scrub!’ Apparently that’s enough to prevent you from getting Bilharzia.
- Don’t just assume you’re ok. Bilharzia can remain dormant for years and, left untreated, can lead to liver damage.
- Buy the Bilharzia tablets from any pharmacy in Kampala. They are very cheap. If you’re just visiting Uganda, I’d recommend buying some and taking them when you get home. You need to take them any time after three months of exposure. Take them one evening before you go to bed. You’ll feel a bit nauseous but wake up right as rain the next morning. Last time I asked, the Praziquantel (Biltricide) tablets cost just 600 Uganda shillings each. You should take one tablet for every 10 kg of body weight.
Don’t let any of this put you off swimming in Uganda. There are hundreds of lakes scattered across the country. The good news is you can swim in most of them.
Swimming in Uganda. Sandy Beach at Lake Nabugabo, just outside Masaka, is popular for a weekend away from Kampala.
The crater lakes such as Lake Bunyonyi, in the far south west of Uganda, are Bilharzia-free as well.
To swim or not to swim? At the end of the day, do what you feel comfortable with.
Have you swum in Lake Victoria? What are your tips for avoiding Bilharzia?
Do you have any other Uganda travel tips or expat travel advice you’d like to share?
Please leave a comment here or check out the Diary of a Muzungu Guest Post page for more information, I’d love to hear from you!