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Dracunculiasis: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About dracunculiasis

Dracunculiasis also called ‘guinea worm disease’ is a long-standing infection caused by the roundworm Dracunculus medinensis. This roundworm is usually 2 to 3 feet long and needs two hosts to complete its lifecycle. One of the hosts is human in which the adult worm resides and releases the larvae. These larvae once out of the body find a crustacean host mostly water fleas in the water to complete their life cycle. Dracunculiasis is characterised by painful skin lesions which may also affect the adjoining joints.

Dracunculiasis: Incidence, age and sex

Dracunculiasis is usually seen in places where sanitation practices are poor and hygiene is inadequate. It is commonly encountered in the poorer countries of Africa. The incidence of dracunculiasis is low in developed countries. It may affect any age group and have equal prevalence in both men and women.

Signs and symptoms of dracunculiasis: Diagnosis

The clinical features of dracunculiasis generally occur many months after ingestion of water fleas containing larvae of dracunculiasis. The most common feature is a skin lesion which may occur anywhere in the body but is most commonly found in the lower limbs. The skin lesion occurs as a blister with swelling and redness around it. Some individuals may complain of itching sensation or even pain around the skin blister. The skin blister usually bursts open to release the roundworm and its larva. Very rarely, the roundworm may release allergic toxins resulting in nausea, vomiting or breathlessness.

The dracunculiasis infection can be easily diagnosed if the adult worm is present at the blister site. However sometimes the worm is unable to get out through the skin blister and dies and get calcified eventually. An X-ray examination of the limbs may reveal calcified parts of worm.

Causes and prevention of dracunculiasis

Dracunculiasis is caused by the roundworm Dracunculus medinensis especially in areas of contaminated water sources. Water contaminated with water fleas also called Cyclops usually ingests larva of such roundworm. Ingestion of such contaminated water causes water fleas along with roundworm to enter the body where the acidic body juices kill the water fleas. Unfortunately the roundworms remain unaffected and invade the intestinal tissues from where they travel under skin to lower limbs and stay there until they can exit from body through a skin opening.

Dracunculiasis is a preventable infection which can be prevented by following certain measures like drinking boiled or filtered water. It is advisable not to enter a water body with an open skin lesion which may cause release of roundworms into water.

Dracunculiasis: Complications

The skin lesion in dracunculiasis may get complicated with superimposed bacterial infection which may progress to life-threatening sepsis, in rare instances. The tendons and ligaments adjoining the skin lesion may get damaged, causing debilitating arthritis in occasional individuals.

Dracunculiasis: Treatment

Fortunately dracunculiasis is a curable infection. The treatment includes manual removal of roundworm from the skin lesion. This is done by rolling the worm over a stick and requires several days. The roundworm can also be removed surgically if manual procedure is not fruitful. No anti parasitic medications are available for this roundworm infection. However analgesic and anti-inflammatory drugs can be prescribed to the affected individual in presence of extensive blistering lesion of skin. Antibiotic medications may be required if the skin lesion gets infected.