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What is Guinea Worm Disease: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Diagnosis

What Is Guinea Worm Disease?

Guinea Worm Disease is a parasitic infection caused by the Guinea Worm which is usually found in endemic areas and thrives in contaminated water. Guinea Worm Disease has become quite rare due to the evolution of various medical treatments which are made to eradicate parasitic infections. In the times to come, Guinea Worm Disease may become a thing of the past. The Guinea Worm enters the body through ingestion of contaminated water of eating raw food washed with contaminated water. The worm then migrates to the skin after maturation.

What Is Guinea Worm Disease?

Guinea Worm Disease is not a serious condition and does not cause any form of disability, although there are high chances of a bacterial infection at the skin site from where the worm comes out of the body through an ulcer. In extremely rare cases, this bacterial infection may spread to the blood causing sepsis which is a serious life threatening condition. Guinea Worm Disease may be a rare disease but it is still prevalent in some parts of Africa like Chad, Ethiopia, and Sudan with southern Sudan being the most affected. Young adults are affected more than others from Guinea Worm Disease.

What Causes Guinea Worm Disease?

Guinea Worm Disease is caused by the Guinea Worm which is found in contaminated water. This parasite completes its life cycle in human hosts and water fleas. Humans come in contact with this parasite when they accidentally drink contaminated water. The larvae of this parasite have a very short lifespan of about two days unless they are within a host which in this case is humans. Once inside the host, the larvae become infective within a couple of weeks. Guinea Worm Disease is a rare condition and people who are contaminated are usually those who travel to endemic areas and the common modes of transmission are

  • Bathing in contaminated freshwater sources
  • Drinking unfiltered water from contaminated sources
  • Eating raw vegetables washed with contaminated water

What are the Symptoms of Guinea Worm Disease?

Individuals with Guinea Worm Disease remain relatively asymptomatic unless the worm erupts from surface of the skin. Prior to eruption, the following nonspecific symptoms may be observed:

When the worm erupts, the following symptoms may be observed:

  • Severe itching
  • Pain at the site of eruption
  • Swelling at the site of eruption
  • Formation of blisters at the site of eruption
  • Ulceration

Eventually, when the worm and the larvae are expelled from the body the symptoms start to resolve and eventually go away.

How is Guinea Worm Disease Diagnosed?

There are no specific tests to diagnose Guinea Worm Disease but a visual inspection of the ulceration will clearly show the parasite within the ulcer. Along with this, if there is a history of the individual traveling to areas prone to such a disease gives an indication that the individual may be suffering from Guinea Worm Disease. The progressive skin ulcers along with it confirms the diagnosis.

How is Guinea Worm Disease Treated?

There is no medication that treats Guinea Worm Disease. The only treatment is to extract the worm before it erupts itself. The process of extracting the worm is followed by disinfecting the wound site and NSAIDs like ibuprofen or Tylenol are given for pain and inflammation. There are a few antiparasitic drugs which can be given to hasten the process of extraction of the worm. Antibiotics may be prescribed in case of a secondary bacterial infection. The process of removing or extracting the worm involves the following processes:

  • The part where the worm can be easily seen in the ulcer is immersed in water to allow the worm to come out just a little bit
  • The area is then disinfected and topical antibiotics are applied so as to quell any chances of a bacterial infection.
  • The end of the worm which is coming out is wrapped around a small needle or a stick until there is some resistance noted
  • The process is stopped at that point in order to prevent the worm from breaking midway. The area is then bandaged. The same procedure is repeated again the following day until the entire worm is removed
  • The patient is then given NSAIDs for calming down any pain or inflammation and systemic antibiotics may be prescribed in some cases to prevent any bacterial infection caused by Guinea Worm Disease


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Guinea Worm Disease: https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/guineaworm/index.html
  2. The Carter Center – Guinea Worm Eradication Program: https://www.cartercenter.org/health/guinea_worm/index.html

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 1, 2023

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