Sunday, May 06, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #55 - Part 2

Good news: An ancient pest is on the verge of being eradicated

This is not new, but it's something I came across by chance recently and felt was worth passing on.

The Guinea worm has been known since Old Testament times: It was referred to in Numbers, around 1450 BCE - that is, pushing 3500 years ago - as the "firey serpent."

People in Africa continue to suffer from its effects. They will unknowingly ingest the parasite from infested water. About a year later, the symptoms appear.

In the body, the worm can grow to three feet long. It moves through the subcutaneous tissues until it exits the body through a swollen blister, usually on lower leg. The pain, which is described as feeling like the area around the worm is on fire, can be crippling. The way to remove the worm is to catch it as it starts to exit the wound and then wind it around a stick as you slowly pull it out - slowly in this case meaning meaning very slowly: The process can take weeks to complete. In the 1950s the Guinea worm ravaged the bodies of an estimated 50 million people in Africa, forcing victims to live through months of debilitating pain, making it impossible for them to tend to cows or harvest crops.

In 1986, the Carter Center, yes, the one founded by Jimmy Carter, began a campaign to end the affliction through education about the worm's behavior and improving the availability of means to filter water so that new people don't get infected. At that time, in 1986, the number of people affected was around 3.5 million.

By 2009, the number of cases was down to about 3200. In 2010, there were fewer than 1700 cases. In 2011, fewer than 1100.

The Carter Center has helped erase Guinea worm infection - also called dracunculiasis - in more than 20 countries, and it believes the worm will soon follow smallpox as the next disease to be eradicated from the human population.

This is something don't hear about much - but damn, it's good news. It's "feel good" news and damn straight we can use more of that.


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