Blog | Five Important Facts About Guinea Worm

Donald Hopkins, M.D., is special advisor to the Guinea Worm Eradication Program at The Carter Center and has been leading the effort to eradicate this neglected disease for over 25 years. Listen below as he tells NPR’s Robin Young about the Center’s efforts to rid the world of this ancient and painful affliction.

Five Facts About Guinea Worm from Dr. Donald Hopkins

1. The disease is contracted by drinking infected water.

Guinea worm is contracted by drinking water that has been contaminated by someone else infected with the worm. If an infected person seeks relief from the burning by going into a pond, for example, the worm can deposit hundreds of thousands of larvae into the pond, which are then eaten by tiny water fleas. People who drink from that pond can become infected with the worm.

2. It can take a year to know if someone has been infected.

An infected person will not show any symptoms for about a year, when the person will begin to experience a burning sensation where the worm is starting to come out through the skin. When guinea worm manifests, 2 to 3-foot-long narrow worms break through the skin on the body, usually on the foot.

3. Treatment of guinea worm is painful and slow.

The guinea worms have to be reeled out of the skin using an ancient Egyptian method to slowly wind the worm around a stick. If the worm is broken, it will spill its larvae into the skin tissue.

The Carter Center's Dr. Donald Hopkins speaks to a Nigerian village about Guinea worm disease prevention.

The Carter Center’s Dr. Donald Hopkins speaks to a Nigerian village about Guinea worm disease prevention in 2004. Today this village and all of Nigeria are free from Guinea worm disease. (Photo: The Carter Center)

4. Guinea worm can be eradicated.

The infection can be prevented by educating people to drink filtered water and not venture into water if they are infected with the disease. There is also a chemical that can be deposited in water to kill the larvae without hurting plants or fish.

5. Conditions in countries fighting the disease are improving.

Surveillance of the disease has become tighter and more expansive across countries that are fighting guinea worm. People are learning to filter water to make it safe for drinking, and village volunteers are helping report cases.

Reprinted with permission from NPR and WBUR’s Here & Now. Read the story.

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