Parasitic Disease: Guinea Worm Takes a Step Closer to Eradication, Jimmy Carter Says
By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.
The guinea worm is a spaghetti-thin parasite that has proved notoriously hard to eradicate around the world. Now former President Jimmy Carter, who has led a 25-year campaign against guinea worm disease, is reporting progress in the effort to make it only the second human disease to be eradicated, after smallpox.
Mr. Carter gave awards to two nations, Nigeria and Niger, that once had the worst caseloads but now have no worms. (A former patient in Nigeria is pictured above.) Their success in halting “this ancient and horrible affliction,” he said, “provides yet another vivid reminder of how people in even the most marginalized circumstances can thrive when given the tools and knowledge to help themselves.”
Now only three countries — Sudan, Mali and Ethiopia — still have cases, and fewer than 1,800 cases were reported in the world in 2010. More than 90 percent were in southern Sudan, where they went undetected for years.
The microscopic worm larva thrives in tiny organisms that live in pond water. When a human drinks the infested water, the larvae break out, migrate toward the skin, grow to a yard long and then escape by exuding a bubble of acid that painfully bursts the skin, forcing the person to cool it in water — into which the worm injects larvae, restarting the cycle.
An undeclared “race” has been going on for a decade between polio and guinea worm fighters. Both have suffered setbacks. The battle against polio has cost $9 billion, while that against guinea worm has cost only $300 million. But polio requires vaccination of millions of children, while guinea worm is fought with water filters and larvicides.