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.

Comments

  1. #1 felgi
    December 6, 2008

    People let’s remember about different people in countries like this. Let’s stop the war!

  2. #2 JustaTech
    December 8, 2008

    Yay for fewer guinea worms! My fourth grade homeroom teacher’s daughter was in the Peace Corp in Ghana, and she worked a lot on dealing with guinea worm. Our teacher read us her letters home, all about building platforms so women wouldn’t have to stand in the water to collect drinking water. When she got back from Africa she brought us a guinea worm in a jar, so we could finally see just how big they are. The classes’ reaction? “EWWWWW! Cool!”

  3. #3 Cheshire
    December 8, 2008

    With the discovery of Wolbachia endosymbionts in filarial nematode diseases, I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of these success stories.

    I hear the WHO is expecting to have elephantiasis eliminated within two decades.

  4. #4 Sterydy,kulturystyka
    December 10, 2008

    The centre kulturystyczne of,,advice,, the doping,sterydy

  5. #5 DT
    December 23, 2008

    Funny that, how as vaccination gains hold in Africa the measles deaths fall. Antivaccinationists keep telling us that its just a question of “good health care” that stops deaths (and nothing to do with the vaccines). That would be the good health care Africans are experiencing in places like the Congo, Angola, Sudan, Rwanda and Zimbabwe I assume?

  6. #6 Mark Temporis
    January 6, 2009

    Oh! These folks will be sooo disappointed…

    http://www.deadlysins.com/guineaworm/index.htm

  7. #7 Aliasy
    January 9, 2009

    its still terrible whats happening there like :(

  8. #8 Bacopa
    January 16, 2009

    Guinea worms. One more reason you should be glad to have your clean tap water. Access to good drinking water would probably prevent more deaths than any other program. Look how they have cholera in Zimbabwe now. They can’t maintain their once excellent urban infrastructure so cholera it is. They probably have rotovirus to, but probably enough medical facilities to deal with it.

    Seems what you need to cut down on water fleas is lots of small, tough fish. Gambusia is a good choice as t can deal with severe pollution, but introducing Gambusia usually leads to the extinction of local fish and amphibians. They are truly the “killer guppy” they are made out to be. I’m sure that every part of the world has some kind of small carnivorous fish that could be introduced to guinea worm infested areas.

  9. #9 seo
    April 19, 2010

    Funny that, how as vaccination gains hold in Africa the measles deaths fall. Antivaccinationists keep telling us that its just a question of “good health care” that stops deaths (and nothing to do with the vaccines). That would be the good health care Africans are experiencing in places like the Congo, Angola, Sudan, Rwanda and Zimbabwe I assume?

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