The Life Cycle
Dracunculiasis, or Guinea worm disease, is a parasitic infection that is contracted when a person drinks water contaminated by infected “water fleas”. The female Dracunculus worm emerges through the skin of its human host after about one year, following mating with a male worm. The male dies in the body, but the female must emerge to release its eggs, excreting an acid that causes a blister to develop on the skin. The worm emerges from the skin as the blister becomes an open sore and causes a hot burning sensation. Many infected people submerge their sores in the water of a lake or pond to relieve the pain, and when the worm is submerged it releases the larvae that are eaten by the water fleas, starting the cycle all over again.
The presence of Guinea worm disease is an indicator of extreme poverty, including the absence of safe drinking water. Entire communities suffer, not just the individuals afflicted with Guinea worm disease. Victims are often totally incapacitated as worms emerge from their body. Children cannot attend school. Farmers cannot tend their fields. Communities suffer food shortages when their people are unable to work. There is no vaccine or medicine to treat or prevent Guinea worm disease. Infected people do not even realize they have it until a year after drinking contaminated water, when they develop blisters as the worms begin to emerge.
Health education and low-technology measures to promote behavioral change are used to prevent Guinea worm disease. The most effective way to prevent it is to filter the tiny water fleas out of drinking water. Families fit fine-mesh filter cloths over clay water pots. Some people, especially nomadic groups, have been given pipe filters, which are small straw-like personal filters that can be worn around the neck. These simple but revolutionary devices enable people to drink water safely no matter where they are. Other important interventions include treating ponds with a safe chemical larvicide called ABATE©, donated by BASF, and in some areas boreholes or deep wells are constructed where feasible.
(SOURCE: The Carter Center)