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Guinea Worm Infection

Overview :

Before the early 1980s, guinea worms infected 10-15 million people annually in central Africa and parts of Asia. By 1996, worldwide incidence of infection fell to fewer than 153,000 cases per year. Complete eradication of guinea worm infection is a goal of international water safety programs.

To survive, guinea worms require three things: water during the embryo stage, an intermediate host during early maturation, and a human host during adulthood. In bodies of water, such as ponds, guinea worm embryos are eaten by tiny, lobster-like water fleas. Once ingested, the embryos mature into larvae.

Humans become hosts by consuming water containing infected water fleas. Once in the human intestine, larvae burrow into surrounding tissue. After three to four, the worms mate. Males die soon after, but pregnant females continue to grow. As adults, each threadlike worm can be three feet long and harbor three million embryos. More than one guinea worm can infect a person at the same time.

About eight months later, the female prepares to expel mature embryos by migrating toward the skin surface. Until this point, most people are unaware that they are infected. Extreme pain occurs as the worm emerges from under the skin, often around the infected person's ankle. The pain is temporarily relieved by immersing the area in water, an act that contaminates the water and starts the cycle again.

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