What is guinea worm? Is it a real worm?

  • Guinea worm is, in fact, a real worm. It is a large nematode, Dracunculus medinensis, which is ingested through drinking contaminated water.
  • The condition is known as dracunculiasis or guinea-worm disease.
  • The worm eventually causes a debilitating and painful infection that begins with a blister, normally on the leg.
  • Around the time of its eruption, the person may experience itching, fever, swelling, severe pain and a burning sensation.
  • Infected people often try to relieve the pain by immersing the infected part in water.
  • If it is immersed in open water sources such as ponds and shallow step wells the worm emerges and releases thousands of larvae.
  • The larva is ingested by a water flea (cyclop), where it develops and becomes infective in two weeks. When a person drinks the water, the cyclop is killed by the acidity of the stomach and the larva is freed and penetrates the gut wall.
  • After about one year, a blister forms and the mature worm, one metre long, emerges thus repeating the life-cycle.
  • At the beginning of the 20th century, guinea-worm disease was widespread in many countries in Africa and Asia.
  • Out of 20 countries that were endemic worldwide in the early 1980s, only Chad, Ethiopia, and South Sudan – all from the African continent – are currently endemic.

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