Guinea worm disease is caused by a parasitic worm found in stagnant waters of Africa. It has been known since early recorded history with possible mentions in the Bible and a definite reference (along with a treatment method for removing the worm that is still used today) in the Ebers Papyrus, an ancient scroll written around 1500B.C.
Presently, only four countries, Chad, Ethiopia, Mali and South Sudan have reported cases of the disease. The worm, Dracunculus medinesis infects its (human) host through the drinking of unfiltered water inhabited by the larval forms that have been eaten by “water fleas.” When a person drinks water containing these water fleas, the larva are released from their insect host while in the stomach and burrow through the digestive tract into the body cavity where they grow into adult worms. After fertilization, male worms die in the host, but female worms can grow up to 2-3 feet long.
The insidious nature of the beast is the way that it manipulates the host (human) when it is ready to release larvae. At this time, the worm will burrow to the surface of the skin (usually on the foot) where it will cause a blister. When the blister erupts, it causes a painful burning sensation that is somewhat alleviated when immersed in water.
Whenever the blistered area is immersed, the worm will eject a milky liquid containing millions of larvae into the water to repeat the life cycle. During this time, the pain can be disabling and the blisters are easily infected with bacteria.
As the worm emerges, it can be captured and wound around a twig, etc. Pulling the worm will result in a break that worsens the condition, but if attended to, the worm can be removed a bit at a time as it emerges from the blister over the course of days to weeks.
Since the 1980s eradication of the Guinea Worm has been aggressively pursued by a number of organizations, most notably the Carter Center, founded by President Jimmy Carter. The Carter Center has coordinated the efforts of the Nation Ministries of Health in affected countries, with the World Health Organization, The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and UNICEF. Together, these organizations provide education to at risk populations, water filters, and pumps to obtain uninfected groundwater.
These efforts have reduced the number of Guinea Worm Disease cases from 3.5 million in 17 countries in1986 to just 22 in four countries in 2015 (provisional total). Importantly, humans are the principal host of Guinea Worms, therefore, if all cases of infection can be eliminated for just one year, this should lead to complete eradication of the organism.