First it was smallpox, now tropical infection poised to become second human disease ever eradicated
Cases of Guinea worm disease have fallen from 3.5million in 1986 to 1,060 last year
15:08 GMT, 9 July 2012
Scientists are on the verge of killing off a parasite that had plagued the human race since ancient times.
Cases of Guinea worm disease have fallen by 99 per cent from 3.5million cases in 1986 to 1,060 in 2011. The disease has affected the poorest communities in Africa and is now found in just South Sudan, Mali, Ethiopia, and Chad.
A Dracunculus medinensis parasite emerges from a sufferers leg. It can only be removed by winding it around a small stick and causes an extreme burning sensation
Former U.S President Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Center has led the campaign to eradicate the infection, said: 'We are approaching the demise of the last guinea worm who will ever
live on earth.'
The parasitic infection is caused by the nematode roundworm parasite Dracunculus medenisis. It is contracted when someone drinks stagnant water that contains water flears which harbour Guinea worm larvae.
The larvae mate in the person's abdomen and the female worms grow to as long as three feet. After a year of incubation the female worm creates an agonising lesion on the skin and slowly emerges from the body. Victims often submerge their painful limbs into cold water, which releases larvae and starts the cycle again.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, 87, has campaigned for years to bring global attention to the guinea worm epidemic in Africa
The infection also causes fever, nausea and vomiting and disables patients for months. The live worm can be extracted over a number of weeks by being wrapped around a stick.
According to Scientific American, the Carter Center has managed to slash cases by distributing cloth water filters and educating villagers on how to stop the infection spreading.
Should the campaign succeed, it will only be the second time in history that humans have managed to wipe out a human disease.
The first disease to be eradicated was the smallpox virus. In 1967 there were still up to 15million cases occurring each year in more than 30 countries. Of these some two million died
and millions of survivors were left disfigured or even blind.
However, a number of technological innovations in the 1960s meant scientists could produce and deliver large numbers of reliable smallpox vaccines.
The last natural case of smallpox was in Somalia in October 1977 following a number of mass vaccination programmes.