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What is Guinea worm disease?
Guinea worm disease, also known as dracunculiasis, is a parasitic infection caused by the nematode roundworm parasite Dracunculus medenisis.

How do you get Guinea worm disease?
Guinea worm disease is contracted when people ingest drinking water from stagnant sources containing copepods (commonly referred to as water fleas) that harbor infective Guinea worm larvae. Inside a human's abdomen, Guinea worm larvae mate and female worms mature and grow, some as long as 3 feet (1 meter). After a year of incubation, the female Guinea worm creates an agonizingly painful lesion on the skin and slowly emerges from the body. The contamination cycle begins when victims, seeking relief from the burning sensation caused by the emerging Guinea worm, immerse their limbs in sources of drinking water, which stimulates the emerging worm to release larvae into the water and begin the cycle all over again.

How widespread is the problem?
In 1986, the disease afflicted an estimated 3.5 million people a year in 21 countries in Africa and Asia. Today, thanks to the work of The Carter Center and its partners — including the countries themselves — the incidence of Guinea worm has been reduced by more than 99 percent.

Guinea worm disease incapacitates victims for extended periods of time making them unable to work or grow enough food to feed their families or attend school.

How is the disease treated and infection prevented?
There is no known curative medicine or vaccine to prevent Guinea worm disease.

Traditional removal of a Guinea worm consists of winding the worm — up to 3 feet (1 meter) long — around a small stick and manually extracting it — a slow, painful process that often takes weeks. The skin lesions often develop secondary bacterial infections, which exacerbate the suffering and prolong the period of disability.

The best way to stop Guinea worm disease is to prevent people from entering sources of drinking water with an active infection and to educate households to always use cloth filters to sieve out tiny water fleas carrying infective larvae.

Educating communities about Guinea worm prevention is vital to stopping the spread of the disease.

Guinea worm disease is set to become the second human disease in history, after smallpox, to be eradicated. It will be the first parasitic disease to be eradicated and the first disease to be eradicated without the use of a vaccine or medical treatment.

What is the Carter Center's role in Guinea worm eradication?
In 1986, The Carter Center began to provide technical and financial assistance to national Guinea worm eradication programs, beginning with Pakistan, and today the Center continues to spearhead the international Guinea worm disease eradication campaign in close partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and many other partners.

In 2013, approximately 150 cases were reported provisionally, a reduction of about 73 percent from 2012. Today, the vast majority of cases remain in South Sudan, the world's youngest country.  

For the latest case numbers, read Guinea Worm Wrap-Up >

After transmission is interrupted in individual countries, the WHO's International Commission for Certification of Dracunculiasis Eradication will send international certification teams to assess whether transmission of the disease continues or whether it has been stopped.

Depending on the outcome of the assessment, the commission recommends to WHO which formerly endemic countries should be declared free of transmission, i.e., certified as free of the disease.

As of 2013, 197 countries have been certified as being free of Guinea worm disease, 16 of these officially certified as having eliminated Guinea worm.

Political will is needed at all levels to eradicate the disease in the remaining affected countries. Making national eradication programs work in remote rural areas requires enormous dedication and attention to detail by all supervisors charged with executing the campaign. Gaining the understanding and cooperation of the remaining affected communities is necessary in order to make Guinea worm disease a part of history.