A pair of positive stories in the news today. The first involves guinea worm, a nasty parasitic disease. The worms have a complex life cycle, but contaminated water plays a key role. Worm larvae within the water are hosted by a water flea, which may be ingested by humans. In the stomach, the water flea will be digested, but the hardy larvae will travel throughout the body and eventually emerge from the body through the skin–usually in the lower extremities. This causes a very painful burning sensation, which the victim may try to relieve with water–allowing the female worm to contaminate the water source with her eggs, and starting the life cycle over again.
There is no “cure” for guinea worm disease–usually the worm is extracted painfully slowly over the course of several weeks by winding the emergent worm around a stick or piece of cloth. Thus, prevention is key–and luckily, rather simple. Water sources can be treated with chemicals to kill the water fleas; infected individuals should steer clear of drinking water sources; and physical barriers (such as filters in drinking straws) can be used to prevent the water fleas from being ingested. These efforts are paying off:
Only 4,410 cases were reported worldwide during the first ten months of this year, all in six African countries. Nearly 80 percent were in Sudan, according to The Carter Center, the disease-fighting nonprofit founded by Carter and his wife.
That total is a dramatic drop from the 3.5 million cases in 20 nations that were reported when The Carter Center’s eradication campaign began in 1986. It’s also less than half the 9,585 cases reported by individual nations in 2007.
And while measles cases have been increasing in the US and many other developed countries, dramatic data from Africa remind us how important measles vaccination is, continuing a trend that began with a big measles vaccination push in 1999:
Measles deaths worldwide declined dramatically to about 200,000 a year, continuing a successful trend, global health authorities reported Thursday.
From 2000 to 2007, annual measles deaths dropped 74 percent, largely because of vaccination campaigns, according to a report from the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other organizations.
Measles has long been a leading cause of death of young children globally and still kills more than 500 a day. But health officials estimate 11 million deaths were avoided in the decline.
*Still* kills over 500 kids a day; progress made, but we still have far to go–both in developing, and developed countries.