What Is Guinea Worm? A parasite that enters the human body in contaminated drinking water, grows for almost a year and emerges through a burning blister in the skin.
Symptoms: Symptoms begin just before the worm starts to emerge from the blister. Victims suffer intense pain, often accompanied by bacterial infection and inability to walk.
Can It Be Eradicated? Yes. With no medical cure or vaccine, eradication will be achieved by interrupting the life cycle of the parasite through education, community empowerment, and low-tech interventions like water filtration.
Status: On track for ERADICATION
On the Cusp of Eradication
Only one human disease, smallpox, has ever been eradicated. But soon a second infection will join the list: Guinea worm disease, a painful and debilitating condition caused by the Guinea worm—known to many as the “fiery serpent.” There is no medicine to cure Guinea worm disease and no vaccine to prevent it. Yet it can be stopped.
Guinea worm is not new. Many scholars believe the biblical “fiery serpents” that attacked the children of Israel in the Old Testament were actually Guinea worms. A calcified Guinea worm was even discovered in a 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy. This engraving from the 1600s shows physicians in Persia (now Iran) removing Guinea worms from their patients’ legs.
A Case Study In South Sudan
The Curse of the Fiery Serpent
Tracking and Containment
When the goal is eradication, it’s not enough to stop some or even most cases of the disease. Health workers must work tirelessly to track down every single case of Guinea worm disease. When a suspected case is reported, teams set out to find the afflicted person, confirm the diagnosis, identify the infected water source, and break the chain of transmission as quickly as possible. Only when every case is contained can eradication be achieved. Suspected Guinea worm patients are encouraged to come to “case containment centers,” which keep the patients from entering local water sources and spreading the disease. At these centers, worms are also safely extracted and patients have access to bathing facilities, fresh bedding, latrines and healthy food for themselves and their families.