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Guinea Worm

By Rebecca Hernandez

Grim, grim, grimity grim. That's the Guinea worm for ya.

You just gotta love a parasite whose Latin name, Dracunculus, means “little dragon”. Makes it sound so cute! If only. Sadly, there is nothing cute about the guinea worm.

A pretty good way of getting infected is to drink water from Sudan that has water fleas in it. While the fleas are digested by your stomach acid, the worm survives and penetrates through your small intestine and into your body cavity. The female worm hangs out there for ten to fourteen months where (ready for this?) it can grow to a length of two to three feet and the width of a spaghetti noodle.

The worm then migrates to its chosen spot of emergence (usually the legs), where it creates a nasty blister which eventually pops, releasing millions of larvae. Wait, it gets better. After this, the worm can only be pulled out a few centimeters per day otherwise it might break. The semi-extracted worm is usually wrapped around a stick during this process.

Luckily this disease has been almost eradicated. Worldwide, there were about 3.5 million cases reported in 1986, over 30,000 cases in 2003, and only about 16,000 cases in 2004. It might sound cruel but hopefully we’ll be bidding farewell to the last little dragon very soon.

Interesting fact: The male Guinea worm is relatively small – about 2cm. Once he’s finished mating with the female (inside someone’s body) he dies and is absorbed into the female.

Danger of death:
Death’s unlikely, but every time your resident female decides she wants to lay eggs and emerges you’ll probably be laid up in agonising pain for around three months.

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Image: Carter Centre

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18 Jan 2011
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