Facts About Dracunculiasis (Guinea Worm Disease): CDC-OC
Article title: Facts About Dracunculiasis (Guinea Worm Disease): CDC-OC
Dracunculiasis (Guinea Worm Disease)
Contact: Media Relations Division
- Dracunculiasis (dra-KUNK-you-LIE-uh-sis), more commonly
called Guinea worm disease, is a parasitic infection caused by
Dracunculus medinensis (a long, thin worm). Infection is seen
when the adult worm emerges through the skin of an infected person.
Worms grow up to 3 feet long and are as wide as a paper clip wire.
- When a person with a Guinea worm ulcer enters water (e.g., a pond),
the adult female worm emerges from the wound and releases a milky white
liquid containing thousands of immature worms into the water. In the
water, these microscopic worms are swallowed by small copepods (water
fleas). About 10 days after the water flea ingests them, the water fleas
become infective to anyone who swallows them. Once swallowed, stomach
acid digests the water flea, but not the Guinea worm. The Guinea worm
then grows to adulthood, a process that takes about a year.
- Infected persons do not usually have symptoms until about 1 year
after they drink contaminated water. A few days to hours before the worm
emerges, the person may develop a fever, swelling, and pain in the area
where the worm is trying to get out. A blister develops, then opens into
an ulcer. When the ulcer contacts water, the worm begins to emerge. More
than 90% of the worms appear on the legs and feet, but may occur
anywhere on the body. Depending on the site of the wound, complications
such as locked joints can develop and result in permanent crippling.
- Once the worm emerges from the wound, it can only be pulled out a
few centimeters each day and wrapped around a small stick. Sometimes the
worm can be pulled out completely within a few days, but this process
usually takes weeks or months (average 3 months).
- No medication is available to end or prevent infection. However, the
worm can be surgically removed before the wound begins to swell.
Antihistamines and antibiotics may reduce swelling and ease extraction
of the worm.
- Except for a few remote villages in the Rajastan desert of India and
in Yemen, dracunculiasis now occurs only in Africa. Most cases occur in
poor rural villages that are not visited by tourists.
- Since 1986, when an estimated 3.5 million people were infected, an
international campaign was established to eliminate the disease. In 1995
the total number of people infected in the world had dropped to about
130,000, <4% of the total in 1986.
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