Background: Schistosoma haematobium and Schistosoma mansoni are endemic to East Africa. US Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) serving in Tanzania were not experiencing symptoms of infection, but in 1998 when comprehensive testing was instituted, more than one-quarter were found to be infected with schistosomiasis at the close of their 27-month tour of service.
Methods: An education campaign was instituted by the in-country Peace Corps Medical Officers. At their close of service, all PCVs had a medical examination and blood, urine, and stool samples were tested for schistosomiasis. PCVs also answered a survey that included questions about their knowledge of the blood fluke and the disease, symptoms, where and how many times they had gone swimming, and what precautionary measures they had taken.
Results: PCVs in Tanzania are most susceptible to infection from recreational activities within the Lake Victoria ecosystem. After an education campaign, incident cases dropped quickly. Vigorous toweling after exposure may have decreased the risk of disease for those PCVs who went swimming in freshwater. Although schistosomiasis is common in Tanzania and PCVs are highly susceptible, it is possible for them to spend their entire tour without contracting the disease, even if they live by Lake Victoria.
Conclusions: People should be encouraged not to swim in Lake Victoria. The possibility that vigorous toweling immediately after exposure to infected waters is a useful protective measure warrants further investigation.