We poked some fun at the expense of former President Carter a few weeks ago, but the man deserves credit for spearheading an initiative to end one of the most gruesome diseases out there — dracunculiasis, the burrowing Guinea Worm:
For untold generations here, yardlong, spaghetti-thin worms erupted from the legs or feet – or even eye sockets – of victims, forcing their way out by exuding acid under the skin until it bubbled and burst. The searing pain drove them to plunge the blisters into the nearest pool of water, whereupon the worm would squirt out a milky cloud of larvae, starting the cycle anew.
“The pain is like if you stab somebody,” said Hyacinth Igelle, a farmer with a worm coming out of a hand so swollen and tender that he could not hold a hoe. He indicated how the pain moved slowly up his arm. “It is like fire – it comes late, but you feel it even unto your heart.”
In part thanks to Jimmy Carter, the Worm is on the brink of extinction:
Mr. Carter persuaded world leaders, philanthropists and companies to care about an obscure and revolting disease and help him fight it. His foundation mobilized volunteers in tens of thousands of villages to treat the drinking water the worms live in.
Even with its complex and easily disrupted life cycle, problems with guinea worm persist, as the NYTimes article reveals. It’s part of their interesting series about the difficulties in eradicating some of humanity’s most enduring scourges. Indeed, the very symbol of medicine and the AMA may have its roots in the ancient practice of removing subcutanous parasites like this, with a stick.
More from the CDC…