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Dracunculiasis (dracontiasis, guinea worm disease) is caused by infection of subcutaneous and connective tissues with the guinea worm Dracunculus medinensis. Humans are the only known reservoir. Once a scourge affecting thousands of people around the world, the range of this organism has been greatly reduced as a result of a global eradication program spearheaded by the Carter Center’s Global 2000 program. After an estimated 3.5 million cases in 1986, 25,217 cases were reported in 2006.1Over 180 countries have now been certified as free of guinea worm by the World Health Organization. Currently, the Carter Center and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that the incidence of guinea worm infection fell by 95% between 1986 and 1996 such that it is now estimated that there are fewer than 10,000 cases, which are limited to five African countries—Sudan, Ghana, Nigeria, Niger, and Mali. Sudan alone accounts for more than two thirds of the total cases reported worldwide. Virtually all cases occur in rural, isolated areas. The economic impact of infection is significant, with adults losing about 100 days of work and children missing 25% of school when symptomatic.2,3

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When an individual drinks water contaminated with freshwater copepods (plankton) of the genus Cyclops, which contain mature guinea worm larvae, infective larvae are set free, penetrate the intestinal wall, and usually migrate to the retroperitoneal tissues (eFig. 326.1).4 Sixty to 90 days after infection, mating occurs and the males subsequently die. Females then require about 8 to 12 months to mature. The gravid female worm, averaging 1 m in length by 1 to 2 mm in diameter (eFig. 326.2), usually migrates from the deep connective tissues to emerge in the superficial subcutaneous tissues of the distal portions of the arms and legs. More than 90% of worms emerge from the lower extremities, mainly below the knees. Following development of an indurated papule, a painful skin blister forms near the anterior portion of the worm, and infected individuals frequently immerse the affected limb into water to relieve the pain. The affected area ulcerates and when the ulcer is immersed in water, large numbers of motile larvae are discharged into the water through a ruptured prolapsed loop of the parasite’s uterus (Fig. 326-1). If larvae are expelled into a body of water used for drinking, such as a pond, they may be ingested by copepods and the cycle repeats.5

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eFigure 326.1.
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Life cycle of Dracunculiasis medinensis.

(Source: http://www.dpd.cdc.gov/dpdx/HTML/Dracunculiasis.htm. Accessed January 13, 2008.)

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eFigure 326.2.
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Adult female worm.

(Source: http://www.dpd.cdc.gov/dpdx/HTML/Dracunculiasis.htm. Accessed January 13, 2008.)

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Figure 326-1.
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Adult female guinea worm (Dracunculus medinensis) ...

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