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Treatment for parasitic worm OK for pregnant women after first trimester

The infection affects about 200 million people worldwide and kills about 280,000 per year.

By Stephen Feller

PROVIDENCE, R.I., Oct. 27 (UPI) -- Researchers in Rhode Island confirmed praziquantel is a safe way to treat pregnant women with schistosomiasis, a parasitic infection common in resource-poor countries, after the first trimester.

Often called "snail fever," schistosomes can be found in freshwater snails. The water-borne flatworms or blood flukes cause schistosomiasis by entering the body through the skin. Symptoms of infection include fever, abnominal pain and bloody diarrhea.

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"Millions of women, many of whom are in a multi-year, cyclical pattern of pregnancy and breast-feeding, are denied praziquantel," said Dr. Jennifer Friedman, director of clinical studies for the Center for International Health Research at Rhode Island Hospital, in a press release. "The accumulation of evidence shows that commencement of this treatment after the first trimester does not adversely affect the mother or fetus. We wanted to conduct this study to demonstrate that this drug is safe after the first trimester, and we remain hopeful that public health policies will change. Deferring treatment only exacerbates the morbidity of the patients."

Researchers recruited 370 pregnant women in the Philippines who were healthy but infected with schistosomes between 2007 and 2012 for a double-blind trial on treatment with praziquantel. All of the women were in the 12th to 16th week of pregnancy. The group was then split in half, with 186 receiving praziquantel and 184 being given a placebo.

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Primarily, researchers found treatment with the drug had no significant effect on birth weight, and it was tolerated by pregnant patients about as well as it was by non-pregnant women. There was also no large difference in safety outcomes from the treatment, including abortion, fetal death in utero, or congenital anomalies.

The study is published in The Lancet: Infectious Diseases.

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