Dracunculiasis is better known as guinea worm disease. The worm that does the damage is called Dracunculus medinensis and lives in microscopic water fleas when the water fleas eat worm larvae. Worm larvae that have been ingested do not die and therefore, it can happen that the water fleas are then accidentally drunk by people.
When in humans, the larvae hatch and burrow into the intestinal walls and out through whatever they come in contact with as they mature into adults up to three feet long.
Eventually, they burst from the body, often the feet but can come out anywhere, including nipples and the face. During this time, the patient suffers horrible pain. This disease is rare in North America but occurs in third world countries that have poor sanitation.
Worms take one year to mature after hatching inside of a person’s body. Symptoms do not begin until a few days or hours before the worm is ready to break through the skin.
Patients suffer from fever, swelling in the area where the worm will come out and lots of burning pain. The swelling eventually forms a blister.
There are no drugs known to kill the parasite that causes the disease. However, the populations of guinea worms are declining so rapidly because of better water sanitation practices that it is possible for the worm to become extinct.
The only current treatment is to dig into the blisters on the patient’s body and pull the worm out with a stick or knife. The worm usually cannot be pulled out all at once. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it often takes days and sometimes weeks to remove just one worm – unless a patient is lucky enough to have it surgically removed. Infection from this procedure is common, so an antibiotic ointment is essential for the wound.
Painkillers like NSAIDs help reduce pain and swelling. Sometimes joints or limbs can be permanently incapacitated.