Guinea Worm Disease: All You Need to Know About

Guinea worm disease is one of those severe problems affecting the poorest of the poor. People living in the areas with poor sanitation and having minimal access to primary health care are more prone to this disorder. Learn a little more about it here.

The rigorous efforts to get rid of the Guinea worm disease have been a successful campaign up to a great extent. It was the combined efforts of local governments and international health organizations that have helped the number to come down in few thousands, which was once in count of millions.  Yes, back in 1980s there once around 20 African and Asian countries afflicted by this disease. However, by the year 2009, the number was cut down to just six countries, including Mali, Ethiopia, Sudan, Ghana, Niger, and Nigeria.

Being a devastating parasitic infection, it has desolated African and Asian populations significantly. Here is all you need to know about this disease: 

What causes Guinea Worm Disease?

As far as the reason is considered, it is said to be the adult female Guinea worm. It usually measures 60–100 cm in length and emerges through the skin. Generally, it is said to enter your skin through lower limbs, which further causes swelling, ulceration and discomfort to the diseased.

How it spreads?

There are several modes through which Guinea worm can enter your body. Often it is found that people become infected drinking water from ponds or any other source carrying stagnant water. Such water bodies are home to tiny ‘water fleas’, which is said to have Guinea worm larvae. When a person drinks the water, the larvae are released from the copepods. Later they make a way into the digestive track, passing into the body cavity.  For the first 8 to 9 months, you will not know that you are infested.  The reason being, the female larvae takes 10-14 months to grow into full-size adults. And these adults are around 2-3 feet long (60-100 centimeters). 

You will get to know when the adult female worm is ready to come out. Simply it creates a blister on the skin which causes a very painful burning. It is said to bursts within 24-72 hours. Although, it can occur anywhere on the body, yet it is usually found on the legs and feet. 

What are the signs and symptoms?

As stated earlier, usually it is difficult to suspect Guinea worm disease in the initial months, thus the symptoms will also appear about one year after a person become infected. Just after a few hours or day before the worm comes out, the infected person might suffer from fever, swelling, and pain in the area. While in maximum cases, 90% of the worms come out of the legs and feet, hence pain is common in these body parts.  Other symptoms can include:

Blisters can also occur anywhere on the skin and it gets bigger over several days, resulting into a burning pain. In addition, removing the worm is a daunting task. Besides being painful, it can also cause greater infection without proper care. Wound infections can be followed by some complications like:

  • Generalized infection (sepsis)
  • Joint infections (septic arthritis)
  • Redness and swelling of the skin (cellulitis)
  • Boils (abscesses)
  • Lock jaw (tetanus)

What is the treatment?

So far, there is no drug treatment for the Guinea worm disease. Also, there is no vaccine to prevent the infection. Hence, once part of the worm starts emerging out of the wound, the solution is to pull out the rest of the worm each day, fetching a few centimeters winding it around a piece of gauze or you can use a clean stick. In several cases, the whole worm can be pulled out just in few days, but usually it could take up to weeks.

The only reason you can use medicines is for reducing the pain and swelling. You can go for any, aspirin or ibuprofen. Also, antibiotic ointment can help prevent secondary bacterial infections.

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