Guinea Worms

The neglected Tropical disease

Dracunculus medinensis.

Guinea worms (or Dracunculus medinensis) enter the human body as larvae in contaminated water. The worms mature and mate in the abdomen, after which the female worms continue to grow and mature. Female guinea worms contain around 3 million eggs in their bodies. After about a year after ingestion, the female worms migrate to the surface of the human bodies (and most commonly settle in the feet). Adult female worms can grow to be 600 to 800 mm in length and 2 mm in diameter. They are easily the The worms create horribly painful lesions that often swell up like blisters, from which the worms will emerge from the human body. Often, because the pain is so intense, humans will seek relief in the coolness of water, however, the water stimulates the worm to release its eggs into the water, which continues the cycle.
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In order to develop further, the larvae need to be ingested by predatory crustaceans (water fleas). When the water is ingested, the water fleas are dissolved by stomach acid, leaving the larva to infest the abdomen.


Infested hosts do not usually notice any symptoms until about one year after infection. Shortly before the worm emerges from the skin, the host will develop a blister or ulcer. Often the host will suffer from fever, swelling, nausea, and pain around the area of emersion. In more than 90% of cases, the worms will emerge from the legs or feet.
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Specially trained field doctors can extract the worms in several hours. They can be surgically removed in a matter of minutes. However, in most cases trained professionals are not available, and so the worms must be extracted by slowly winding them around sticks for several weeks.


Guinea worms affect people in 21 countries across Africa and Asia. The most heavily infected countries are South Sudan, Chad, Mali, and Ethiopia.

On the brink of extinction

Guinea worm infections have been isolated, and because of work by organizations like the Carter Center, guinea worm infection has been drastically reduced.