What is dracunculiasis?

Dracunculiasis is an infection triggered by the roundworm Dracunculus medinensis. It can trigger painful, swollen and sore skin along with incapacitating arthritis. In the previous years, the condition is widespread in various parts of tropical Africa, India, Yemen and Pakistan. At the present, the number of cases has drastically reduced.

How does it spread?

An individual can become infected by drinking water that contains tiny infected crustaceans. The larvae thrive inside the crustaceans. After the crustaceans were swallowed, they die and release the larvae which penetrate the wall of the intestine and enter the abdominal cavity.

Within the abdomen, the larvae mature into adult worms in a year and start to mate. After mating, the female worms depart the abdomen and travel through tissues beneath the skin, usually to the lower legs or feet. It is where they create an opening via the skin which causes intense, burning discomfort. In an attempt to alleviate the burning sensation by soaking the leg in water, the pregnant worm releases larvae into the water. Once in the water, the larvae can infect another crustacean. If the pregnant worms do not reach the skin, they die and harden beneath the skin.

Dracunculiasis

A blister forms over the location of the worm. The surrounding area around the blister starts to itch, burn and becomes inflamed.

Indications of dracunculiasis

The symptoms of dracunculiasis begin when the worm starts to break through the skin. A blister forms over the location of the worm. The surrounding area around the blister starts to itch, burn and becomes inflamed.

The materials released by the worm might trigger an allergic reaction that can result to difficulty breathing, itchy rash, vomiting and debilitating pain. Soon the blister opens up and the worm can be seen. As the worm leaves the body, the symptoms eventually subside.

In most cases, the blister heals after the adult worm leaves the body. Nevertheless, in almost half of cases, bacterial infections develop around the opening for the worm. Oftentimes, the joints and tendons close to the blister are damaged.

Prevention

  • Boiling water
  • Filtering drinking water via a piece of finely-meshed cheesecloth
  • Only drink chlorinated water

An infected individual should avoid entering sources of drinking water so that these sources will not become contaminated.

Management

In most cases, the adult worm is slowly removed over days to weeks by rolling it on a stick. Once the head of the worm emerges, it should be held and wrap the end of the worm around a small stick.

Steadily, as the worm loosens, the stick is turned to wrap more of the worm around the stick. Over time, the worm is pulled free and discarded. When a healthcare professional is available, they can remove the worm via a small incision that is created after a local anesthesia is used.

Remember that there are no drugs available that can eliminate the worms. In case a bacterial infection develops around the opening of the worm, antibiotics might be needed.

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