Horrifying Parasitic Illness Reaches All-Time Low

Eradication efforts against the Guinea worm appear to be taking hold.

ByABC News
December 5, 2008, 9:53 AM

Dec. 5, 2008— -- ATLANTA (AP) - Cases of Guinea worm disease -- a horrifyinginfection that culminates in worms coming out of a victim's skin --have reached an all-time low worldwide, former U.S. President JimmyCarter announced Friday.

Only 4,410 cases were reported worldwide during the first tenmonths of this year, all in six African countries. Nearly 80percent were in Sudan, according to The Carter Center, thedisease-fighting nonprofit founded by Carter and his wife.

That total is a dramatic drop from the 3.5 million cases in 20nations that were reported when The Carter Center's eradicationcampaign began in 1986. It's also less than half the 9,585 casesreported by individual nations in 2007.

"Our record on Guinea worm for the last few years has beensteadily and rapidly downward," Carter said.

Health experts hope that next year may see the last reportedcases of the parasitic illness, which would make it the secondinfection -- after smallpox -- to be eliminated from the world.

Carter also announced that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundationhas contributed $40 million toward the eradication effort, and theBritish government had pledged roughly $15 million. The CarterCenter is trying to raise $32 million to match the Gates gift.

Guinea worm occurs when people drink water contaminated withworm larvae. Over a year, one or more of the larvae can grow to thesize of a 3-foot-long spaghetti noodle. Then they very slowlyemerge through the skin, often causing searing, debilitating painfor months. The disease is usually not fatal.

There is no vaccine or medicine for the parasite. Infection isprevented by filtering water and educating people how to avoid thedisease.