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article imageDracunculiasis cases decline globally

By Tim Sandle     Dec 2, 2014 in Science
Some rare good news on the global health front. Only 148 dracunculiasis cases were reported in 2013 (the lowest annual total ever) and only four endemic countries remain. So, what is this parasitic disease?
Dracunculiasis, also called guinea worm disease (GWD), is an infection by the guinea worm (Dracunculus medinensis.) The guinea worm is a nematode and it is among the longest nematodes infecting humans. Females are up to 60 centimeters in length; males are far smaller at only 3 centimeters in length.
Guinea worms have existed for hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of years. With the disease, one year after the infection, a painful blister forms, often on the lower leg, and one or more worms emerge accompanied by a burning sensation. To soothe the burning pain, patients often immerse the infected area in water. The worm(s) then releases thousands of larvae (baby worms) into the water, and the cycle is repeated.
Troublingly, humans are the only known animal that guinea worms infect. The disease affects poor communities in remote parts of Africa that do not have safe water to drink. There is no drug treatment for Guinea worm disease nor a vaccine to prevent it.
Serious attempts to tackle the disease did not begin until the 1980s, when an initiative was begun by the Carter Center. The progamme focused on cleaning up drinking water and on improvements to education in the affected regions. Due to the life cycle of the parasite, there are times of the year when resources can be targeted. In each affected country the worms emerge from the skin during certain predicable times of the year.
Some positive news has been announced by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the mid-1980s there were 3.5 million cases annually. By 2012 this fell to 542 cases. In 2013, only 148 cases were reported worldwide. This alone represents a seventy-three percent reduction in cases from the previous year.
The CDC announcement means that global eradication is within reach. Discussing the news, Dr Dieudonné Sankara, Epidemiologist at the Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases at the World Health Organization said: “This is welcome news for the national Guinea-Worm Eradication Programme as some previously inaccessible areas are now available for routine surveillance, and active case detection and containment. We need to make maximum use of renewed political commitment to roll out all required interventions to reduce the chances of any future outbreak.”
More about Dracunculiasis, Parasite, guinea worm, Water
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