Schistosomiasis in Mainland China

A Review of Research and Control Programs Since 1949

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  • Department of Biology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802

This article is based on a review of about 250 published reports, largely in Chinese biomedical journals, on interviews with Chinese expatriates and Japanese scientists, and on news reports from communist, noncommunist, and neutral sources. It relates the progress made toward the control of schistosomiasis in mainland China during the past 20 years. In 1949, as a result of more than a half century of neglect of the public health, central China was ravaged by schistosomiasis japonica. In 11 provinces comprising 324 districts and some of the best rice-growing lands, villages were abandoned, fields lay fallow, famine was rife, and the surviving population was ill. Surveys showed that about 10.5 million persons had schistosomiasis and another 100 million were exposed constantly to the danger of infection; also, 1.5 million cattle were infected. A national campaign against the disease utilized the abundant manpower to destroy the snail host by cleaning irrigation ditches and streams and to reclaim lands by earth fills. Preventive measures have included storage of human feces to destroy eggs. Treatment of patients has relied upon traditional galenical drugs and a 3-day treatment with tartar emetic, with a maximum dosage of 700 mg. Research has produced a series of nitrofuran compounds, some of which have given promising results. There is little doubt that great progress has been made toward the control of schistosomiasis in China. Recently, owing at least in part to the Cultural Revolution, a 7-year plan to eradicate schistosomiasis has fallen behind schedule.