Guinea Worm Extraction
This guinea worm is being displayed, so the stick that it’s normally wrapped around is removed. You can’t just pull these suckers out. They have to be slowly removed, just a centimeter or two a day at most, otherwise the body breaks apart, the worm retracts, regrows, and forms another ulcer elsewhere in the body.
As far back as the Ebers Papyrus (a medical writing from Egypt aruond 1550 BCE), the symptoms of guinea worm infection were noted. The fiery pain, the blister on the foot, and the emerging “little dragon” were all well-documented in Greek writings, as well. It wasn’t until European explorers picked up the disease on the coast of Guinea that the term “guinea worm” began to be used.
This photograph is from the Carter Center’s Neglected Disease Initiative. It was taken in Uganda, where guinea worm infections are now eliminated. As of today, only four countries in Africa still have cases of it. Since the Dracunculus worm must pass through humans approximately once a year to survive (and it can’t survive in other animals), when habits are changed and water is clean (or rendered clean), it completely dies out in an area.
When the few yearly cases reported in Mali, Chad and Ethiopia are reduced to zero for several years, and the main reservoir of Guinea worm (South Sudan) is clean, this will be the first parasitic disease ever eliminated. It will also be notable in that no vaccines, and no “real” medical treatment (aside from education on how to safely remove the worm so that it doesn’t break or spread eggs in your water supply) was used to eliminate it.
Lifestyle changes, simple water filtration, and education are what have already gotten the cases reported down from 3.5 million/year to 817 cases in 2010 (11 cases, if you eliminate South Sudan). Let’s hope that the same interventions can get the transmission rate of this disease down to zero.