Eradicating the Guinea Worm

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The Guinea worm can be removed from a leg vein of an infected person by gradually winding it around a stick, like this matchstick. (credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

OpenStax Microbiology

Dracunculiasis, or Guinea worm disease, is caused by a nematode called Dracunculus medinensis. When people consume contaminated water, water fleas (small crustaceans) containing the nematode larvae may be ingested. These larvae migrate out of the intestine, mate, and move through the body until females eventually emerge (generally through the feet). While Guinea worm disease is rarely fatal, it is extremely painful and can be accompanied by secondary infections and edema.

An eradication campaign led by WHO, the CDC, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the Carter Center (founded by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter) has been extremely successful in reducing cases of dracunculiasis. This has been possible because diagnosis is straightforward, there is an inexpensive method of control, there is no animal reservoir, the water fleas are not airborne (they are restricted to still water), the disease is geographically limited, and there has been a commitment from the governments involved. Additionally, no vaccines or medication are required for treatment and prevention. In 1986, 3.5 million people were estimated to be affected. After the eradication campaign, which included helping people in affected areas learn to filter water with cloth, only four countries continue to report the disease (Chad, Mali, South Sudan, and Ethiopia) with a total of 126 cases reported to WHO in 2014.


Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at:


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