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Guinea Worm: One of the Scariest Parasites on the Planet

guinea worm parasite
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Guinea Worm is a parasitic worm that is currently only found in 3 countries.

Here are a few reasons why Guinea Worm is terrifying:

1. There is no treatment for it.

2. It is a worm that grows to three feet inside your body.

3. You don’t know you have it until approximately one year after it has entered your body.

4. Before it emerges from your body, it produces an excruciating blister that feels like it’s on fire.

5. IT EMERGES FROM YOUR BODY. As in, it just pops out!!! Usually in a lower limb, but it could come out wherever!!

6. The only way to get rid of it is to remove it, inch by inch, over a period of several weeks.

The good news: you can only contract this parasite in four countries: Ethiopia, Mali, Sudan, and GhanaUPDATE 8/4/11 Congratulations to Ghana and the Carter Center for eliminating guinea worm from the country!! This is a major accomplishment!! Read about it here. In the countries where guinea worm persists, it is becoming increasingly rare.

This is largely due to efforts by the The Carter Center, a foundation created by former US President Jimmy Carter, who has made it is his mission to outlive Guinea Worm. If he does, it would be the second disease to be eradicated by human efforts (smallpox being the first) and the first disease to be eradicated solely through lifestyle and behavior changes.

The reason this is even a possibility is because Guinea Worm depends on a human host for reproduction. Guinea worm larvae begin their life cycle inside water fleas. If water is untreated or not properly strained (see our post 4 ways to treat water while traveling), the water flea is ingested by a human. The water flea dies in the stomach, but the guinea worm larvae live on. Once the guinea worm larvae reach maturity, typically a year later, they emerge from the host to deposit eggs in water. Guinea Worms have evolved to produce the aforementioned burning sensation because this feeling drives people to soothe the blister with water – the only medium in which guinea worm can deposit eggs.

A new documentary, called Foul Water/Fiery Serpent chronicles current efforts to combat Guinea Worm. From their website:

The Carter Center has battled the worm for 24 years through education and the distribution of strainers that purify drinking water. It has helped erase guinea worm in more than 20 countries, and it believes the worm will follow smallpox — which was wiped out in the late 1970s — as the next disease to be eradicated from the human population.

Click here to read more about this disease and the documentary.

Be happy that this parasite is not living inside you. Or maybe it is. Just have to wait and see.

Photo credit: flickr user prep4md

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{ 3 comments… add one }

  • Alex February 15, 2011, 4:21 pm

    this is terrifying.

    • admin February 15, 2011, 7:58 pm

      Indeed

  • britty britt August 29, 2012, 8:09 am

    I am doing a project on this worm in Zoology and to find out about this worm is so terrifying.

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