The next eradicated disease will be…

…not polio, nor HIV, tuberculosis, or influenza, but that doesn’t mean that millions won’t benefit from it’s elimination. The next eradicated disease will likely be Guinea worm disease (dracunculiasis).

guineaworm3Guinea worm disease (dracunculiasis) is a parasitic worm infection that you get from drinking contaminated water. Inside your intestines, the worm larvae mature and grow.  After about a year, mature female worms (3 foot long spaghetti noodle-looking monsters) fight to escape through an eruption of the skin typically on the leg or foot.  This emergence is a slow, painful process that is somewhat relieved by bathing in water–allowing the mature worm escape and contaminate another water source with its larvae and continue its infection cycle.  If patients don’t bath themselves in water, getting the worm out can be even more of a challenge.  guineawormRemoval consists of winding the worm around a stick and pulling it out slowly over many days to weeks.  Although this can be a successful process, the skin lesions left after worm extraction often develop secondary bacterial infections.  Guinea worm disease is very painful and incapacitates its victims for long periods of time, preventing patients from working and caring for themselves and their families.  There are no cures or vaccines for Guinea worm disease.  The only hope of eradicating the disease is through education about clean water.

In 1986, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his non-profit Carter Center began a global eradication campaign. According to the Carter Center Guinea Worm Eradication Program, in the 1980’s Guinea worm disease affected 3.5 pipe_filtermillion people in Asia and Africa.  Today, thanks to this program and its active partners, there were 126 cases in 2014–giving a real possibility for eradication in 2015.  The Carter Center’s strategy for eradication has been through community-based education and behavioral change.  They’ve taught people how to filter drinking water and provided portable devices and instructions like this pipe filter.  Although this campaign will not rid the world of Guinea worms, it will have lasting consequences for people exposed to Guinea worms as well as other water-borne infections world-wide.

Good-bye Guinea worm disease!  Sayonara!

Helpful links:
Carter Center
Centers for Disease Control
World Health Organization


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