What Is Guinea Worm Disease, And How Is It Contracted?

Guinea Worm disease is an infection common to travellers or residents of the more humid regions of Africa and Asia.

Guinea Worm disease, medically called Dracontiasis, Dracunculiasis or Dracunculosis, is a parasitic infection of the sub-dermal tissue by the "guinea worm", a nematode of the name Dracunculus medinensis, at least when it occurs in humans. A similar worm, called Dracunculus insignis tends to afflict dogs and other carnivores found in the wild (such as raccoons), and is contracted from a tiny water crustacean. Symptoms of insignis are roughly identical to those of medinensis. The human form is contracted from contaminated water, where it is released by water fleas. The infection is exceedingly common in some portions of Africa and Asia, namely those with swampy, moist climates, and it has been known to afflict as many as dozens or hundreds in a human population in aborigine or impoverished conditions.

When consumed, larvae pass through the abdominal cavity through the walls of the intestines, where they make their way slowly to the sub-dermal layer, found just beneath the skin. Here, usually around the abdomen or limbs, one or more larvae will begin to mature, forming a cystic mass on the skin of the body of somewhere usually between two and four centimeters. Here the worm will grow, producing larvae, as well as a substance mildly toxic to the skin that causes it to itch terribly, and, in time, to ulcerate. When the host's skin is submerged in cold water, the mother is stimulated to release its larvae, which exit through the skin's ulcerations to re-infect another mammalian host, or a water flea, which can serve as an intermediary host and method of effective transportation to the next site of human infection.

The main notable symptoms are the cysts and lesions, which will typically be very painful and last some months without explanation. Because the maturation of the worm requires eight months to a year to occur, exposure may have occurred long before the onset of symptoms. Travel to regions afflicted by this sort of parasite, camping trips, or lake swimming may be indicators of risk. While the knowledge is of little use to the lay person, cytological examination of a biopsy from a Dracunculus cyst will in an otherwise healthy individual show great evidence of immune response, including macrophage and microphage presence, as well as the presence of nematode larvae, which at their largest are usually no longer than five millimeters and at their smallest may be microscopic.

Drugs can be prescribed to ease and heal the ulcerations, but surgical intervention is required to remove the worm or worms. This requires excision of the cyst. Traditionally, a small incision was made, and one end of the adult worm, which can grow more than 20cm long, was wrapped around a small stick or twig, allowing it to be rolled out as the stick is turned. This treatment is actually the origin of the medical symbol. While this illness is not potentially deadly under normal circumstances, it is recommended that a doctor be contacted if you believe you've contracted one or more Guinea Worms, and that sticks be left out of the matter entirely.

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