Effect Measure

Dracunculiasis: death of the fiery serprent

I vaguely remember a medical school lecture about dracunculiasis, also known as Guinea Worm Disease. Also called the “fiery serpent” these are very long worms that grow in people and then the females get hungry and start to burrow out of them, sort of like Alien but not quite as quickly or as dramatically nor out of their chest. Usually out of the tops of their feet. Here are the basics of the life cycle:

When I first heard about dracunculiasis the world had many millions of people suffering this debilitating horror. In 1986 the Carter Center, the creation of former President Jimmy Carter, started a campaign to wipe out Guinea Worm Disease. There were an estimated 3.5 million cases in 20 African countries then. This week some good news about this very bad news worm (hat tip daedalus2u):

Cases of Guinea worm disease — a horrifying infection that culminates in worms coming out of a victim’s skin — have reached an all-time low worldwide, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter announced Friday.

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, a nonprofit founded by Carter and his wife that helps fight disease and champions voting and human rights around the world.


“Our record on Guinea worm for the last few years has been steadily and rapidly downward,” Carter said.

Health experts hope that next year may see the last reported cases of the parasitic illness, which would make it the second infection — after smallpox — to be eliminated from the world. (AP via Yahoo News)

This is a tremendous achievement. Here’s a clip from the Carter Center that shows the human face of Guinea Worm Disease:

It’s nice to have good news to share. An omen?


  1. #1 Nomen Nescio
    December 7, 2008

    so guinea worm is dependent on humans for hosts, then? i had not known that, but it’s excellent news; another one of the few species of organism i won’t be sorry to see extinct.

  2. #2 D. C. Sessions
    December 7, 2008

    This sounds like a job for PETA!

    This is no mere instance of a enslaved rodent-Americans, this is genocide directed at an entire species!

    The world needs, nay, decency compels, PETA members to come forward and offer themselves as hosts for these poor animals.

  3. #3 caia
    December 8, 2008

    I had no idea.

    Carter is a mensch.

  4. #4 daedalus2u
    December 8, 2008

    The critically important lesson in what Carter has done with guinea worm is what level expertise he had before he started his efforts. That would be none.

    He had no expertise, he had no wealth, he had no special knowledge of how to solve the problem. What he did have was the will to solve the problem and the ability to convince people who did have the resources and ability to solve the problem to actually do so.

  5. #5 neil
    December 8, 2008

    I had heard that there is a “Save the Guinea Worm Foundation,” where the members volunteer to act as host to a family of guinea worms so that we do not force them into extinction..,

    Here’s the link:


    I hope it’s more farce then not.

  6. #6 Suebob
    December 15, 2008

    God bless the Carter Center for having the will and for finding the means to do this work.