The New York Times reported yesterday that Nigeria has eliminated Guinea worm. It’s been an entire year since a worm was seen. This is a big deal. Guinea worm is a horrifying monster of a parasite; the worms can grow to three feet long and come busting out of human skin through an open sore. There is no medication for someone infected with a guinea worm. You can wait for the worm to break out of the body, or you can remove it by wrapping the worm around a stick and wrapping a little more of the live worm each day. Time Magazine has an enlightening and horrifying photo essay on Guinea worm.
You can see why we want to get rid of Guinea worm infection. The trick to Guinea worms, though, is that their infection vector lives in standing water. So eradicating the infection doesn’t happen by vaccinating people. Instead, it’s by making sure that everyone drinks filtered water and never consumes any of the water fleas that host Guinea worm larvae. If, however, we can do that, you can get rid of Guinea worms in a single year. Without the human body to digest the water flea and release the Guinea worm larvae, they have no way to reproduce.
It will take two more years for Nigeria to be certified as having eradicated Guinea worm, but seeing no worms for a year is a very, very good sign that the cycle of disease is broken.