A plague of Guinea worm infestations is so ancient that it is found in Egyptian mummies and the terror of pain and suffering still exists
For untold generations, yardlong, spagetti-thin worms that erupt from the legs, feet, or even eye sockets of victims force their way out by exuding acid under the skin until it bubbles and bursts through the epidermis.
An adult female Dracunculus worm emerges through the skin of its human host one year after infection. Often, people with emergent worms enter sources of drinking water and unwittingly allow the worm to release larvae into the water. These larvae are ingested by microscopic fresh-water copepods ("water fleas", especially of the genus Cyclops).
Inside the copepods, the larvae develop into the infective stage in 10-14 days. In turn, humans may then become infected by drinking water containing infected copepods.
Once inside the body, the stomach acid digests the water flea, but not the guinea worm larvae sheltered inside. These larvae find their way to the small intestine, and then pass into the body cavity. During the next 10-14 months, the female copulates with a male guinea worm. The female develops into its full length of 60‑100 centimeters (2‑3 feet) long and a narrow width similar to that of cooked spaghetti.
Having mated, the adult female is packed with thousands of tiny larvae. The worm migrates to the area of the body from which it will emerge.
- The burning pain drives them to plunge the blisters into the nearest pools of water and then the worms squirt out a milky cloud of larvae which starts the cycle again.
- Guinea worm's Latin name is dracunculiasis, or "affliction with little dragons", but in Africa it is often called "empty granary" because of its tendency to erupt at harvest time, leaving farmers unable to function in their work.
- One young woman had a worm emerging from her breast and she had eleven more come out that same season.
- A farmer described the pain as being like a knife stab or burning with fire as the worm was coming out of his hand which was so swollen and tender that he couldn't hold a hoe or any other tool to do his farm work.
- It is judged to be "easy to wipe out" because it has a complex life cycle in which humans, worms, fleas, and shallow ponds in which each must play its part.
Any missing link disrupts the chain of transmission.
- Wells can be drilled to prevent the afflicted people from plunging their limbs into the village's drinking water.
- Local water sources can be treated with a mild pesticide that kills the fleas that swallow the worm larvae and are, in turn, swallowed by people.
- Every family can faithfully pour its water through a filter cloth every day, or drink through filtering tubes.
- The Guinea worm, or dracunculiasis, is not fatal, unless tetanus infects the wound.
- The excruciating pain can disable small farmers and often threatens their families with starvation.
The life cycle of a Guinea worm
- Entering the body: a person drinks water containing tiny water fleas that are infected with Guinea worm larvae.
- Multiplying: the fleas are digested, releasing the larvae into abdominal tissues, where they mate.
- Growing: female worms, growing up to three feet (one meter) long, move through the body, mostly to lower limbs.
- Leaving the body: about a year later, the worm emerges from the blister it creates. The victim, in pain, rushes to cool the inflicted limb or body part in water.
- Infesting the water: on contact with water, the worm releases clouds of larvae.
- Infecting water fleas: water fleas consume the worm larvae, which resist digestion waiting for someone to drink the surrounding water and so the cycle begins again.
The draco-, drac- unit can be seen from here.
Zoonoses, Part 1, about animal diseases.
A cross reference of other word family units that are related directly, or indirectly, with: "insects, bugs, worms; invertebrates":
Dung Beetle Survival;
Dung Beetles Important;
Mosquito, other Languages;
Mosquitoes, Pt. 1;
Mosquitoes, Pt. 2;