Morning name: bilharzia

This morning’s name: bilharzia (the disease). Memorable name, unpleasant affliction.

From Wikipedia:

Schistosomiasis … (also known as bilharzia, snail fever, and Katayama fever) is a disease caused by parasitic worms of the Schistosoma type. … The disease is spread by contact with water contaminated with the parasites. These parasites have been released from their freshwater snail hosts. The disease is especially common among children in developing countries as they are more likely to play in contaminated water. Other high risk groups include farmers, fishermen, and people using unclean water for their daily chores.

Electron micrograph of an adult male Schistosoma parasite worm. The bar (bottom left) represents a length of 500 μm:

On the name of the creature (and the disease), from this same Wikipedia article:

The eggs of these parasites were first seen by Theodor Maximilian Bilharz [(1825-62)], a German pathologist working in Egypt in 1851 who found the eggs of Schistosoma haematobium during the course of a post mortem. He wrote two letters to his former teacher von Siebold in May and August 1851 describing his findings. Von Siebold wrote a paper (published in 1852) summarizing Bilharz’s findings. Bilharz wrote a paper in 1856 describing the worms more fully and he named them Distoma haematobium. Their unusual morphology meant that they could not be comfortably included in Distoma. So in 1856 Meckel von Helmsback created the genus Bilharzia for them. In 1858 Weinland proposed the name Schistosoma (Greek: “split body”) after the male worms’ morphology. Despite Bilharzia having precedence, the genus name Schistosoma was officially adopted by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. The term Bilharzia to describe infection with these parasites is still in use in medical circles.

One Response to “Morning name: bilharzia”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    The Wikipedia article notes that “the term Bilharzia to describe infection with these parasites is still in use in medical circles.” The article fails to distinguish between Bilharzia the parasite and bilharziasis the disease.

    I learned this alternate word for schistosomiasis in the excellent course in parasitology I had at Washington University St. Louis in 1961 (pause a moment in memory of Dr. Hiromu Tsuchiya), but in more than fifty years in medicine I have never seen the word used in contemporary English. (The German Wikipedia article begins Schistosomiasis – auch als Bilharziose bezeichnet – .)

    There are three different clinically and geographically distinct varieties of schistosomiasis, and the taxonomists distinguish at least two more species.

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