Friday, December 05, 2008

Not for feint of heart: The Guinea Worm

Former President Jimmy Carter's charitable foundation announced today that it looks like the eradication of the guinea worm parasite may soon become the second infection to be eliminated from the world. Smallpox was the first.

I still wouldn't drink the water yet in Mali.

People catch guinea worm from drinking water infected with the parasite, a worm. It grows under people's skin and over the course of a year, the worm can grow 3 feet long. Wow! And, GROSS! Like the bot fly larvae I learned about when I visited Belize years ago, the guinea worm slowly erupts from the skin, literally, growing right out of your arm, leg, foot. Evidently it causes much pain and debilitation but is not usually fatal.

There is no cure or even treatment for the parasite. The only thing you can do is prevent it, or live with it, waiting for it to emerge completely. Ew.

The map below from The Carter Center shows the extent of the parasite.

It all just reminds me how very fortunate we are to have clean, safe drinking water — something lacking in many parts of the world. Even in places like Tunisia, Belize and Guatemala, which were all fairly well developed for tourism, I drank bottled water which was expensive. In Guatemala we figured out pretty quickly that beer was actually cheaper.

You can learn more about the guinea worm and how it's being eradicated here.


The Empty Envelope said...

Ouch! While I was on my China research binge this summer, I read that in some places, the water is actually poisoned and the parents drink the local, and have their kids drink bottled. I feel so blessed to live in America.

LeelaBijou said...

This post is really interesting. I´ve heard of this worm before and the ones who have suffered it say they feel a terrible pain.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, the "firery serpant" which holds significant history. The best way to get the adult female is to wrap her around a stick ever so slowly, over a period of DAYS, so she'll come out in one piece.

As I understand it, this was the origin of the serpent and the staff symbol representing the medical field.

My students are taking their last lab exam on nematodes this week. This is one of my favorites to show them.

Unbalanced Reaction said...

Yikes! I saw that on the news somewhere this week, and it totally icked me out. I had a guide in Costa Rica that was biten by a bot fly. I was high on bug spray fumes the whole time. Mmm....DEET.

Field Notes said...

Ah, yes, the DEET. We called that "Belizean perfume" while we were there. No one got bitten by the dreaded bot fly though!