Efforts to end worm disease get British boost
October 5th, 2011
01:49 PM ET

Efforts to end worm disease get British boost

Britain will back a final push to wipe out a debilitating parasitic worm disease that is on the verge of worldwide eradication.

Former President Jimmy Carter, World Health Organization's director-general Margaret Chan and British officials in London, announced Wednesday a new campaign to rid the world of the Guinea worm, making it the second disease to be eradicated.

The British government pledged about $30 million in eradication efforts. International Development Minister Stephen O'Brien and Carter emphasized the need for donors to match the funds to get rid of the guinea worm.

"The eradication of guinea worm is within our sights," O'Brien said.  "But it does still remain unfinished business, mainly for the poorest people in remote regions of the remaining four endemic countries where the worm persists."

The first disease to be wiped off the earth was smallpox, which was eliminated through vaccines.

Unlike smallpox, the Guinea worm disease is not fatal. But there is no treatment for it and there's no vaccine to prevent infection either, according t to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  This disease can, however, cause permanent disabilities to people, crippling their livelihood and local economies.

The key to eradicating the disease is access to clean water and changes in people's behavior because the parasitic Guinea worm lives in stagnant water.  When a person drinks the contaminated water, the worm grows inside its human host for a year until it emerges through the skin, causing great pain and in some cases, infections. The worm has been described in the Bible and Ancient Egyptian and Greek texts.

Graphic: How the guinea worm infects a person

Today, the worm is far less pervasive.  Statistics from 2010 show that 1,797 cases remain in the world, in four countries: Ethiopia, Mali, Chad and mostly South Sudan.

"For most of the world, this is an invisible worm - out of sight, out of mind, because it affects the poorest of the poor, people living in remote, rural areas," said Chan from the WHO.

Carter commended the British government for "its willingness and staying power to help eradicate this debilitating disease," and called on donors to match their efforts.  The goal is to stop the transmission of the guinea worm before 2015.

Unlike diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, guinea worm is a little known disease.  The Carter Center, based in Atlanta, Georgia, has led public health efforts tackling neglected diseases most Americans have never heard of.

"We have a policy at our center of undertaking difficult projects, quite often which no one else wants to adopt," Carter said during the press conference.  "Perhaps one of the most vivid examples of this has been guinea worm."

Since 1986, the center's efforts have focused on health education, training of health workers and village volunteers who monitor and treat patients.  The center has also supplied simple tools for clean drinking water and village-based education on avoiding the disease.

The greatest threat remains in the world's newest country, South Sudan, which has about 6,000 villages under surveillance by 12,000 health volunteers.

Calling the remaining cases "unfinished business," O'Brien said health officials had reason for cautious optimism.  "We know the final mile can often be the longest part of the journey. "

soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. Sarah

    Get a clue, vaccination did not eradicate smallpox. In fact findings as published in the Ninth Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, strongly contradict the effectiveness of mass smallpox immunization programs. A few revealing excerpts follow: In Bavaria in 1871 of 30,742 of the smallpox cases 29,429 were in vaccinated persons, or 95.7 percent. Vaccine worked real good there.........Also the death-rate from smallpox in the German army, in which all recruits are vaccinated, was 60 percent more than among the civil population of the same age. Agian, looks like the vaccine worked real well.

    October 5, 2011 at 14:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • BillRubin

      That is an excellent example from the early vaccination era of the 19th century. Those results were not consistent with the body of evidence collected over the next ~100 years, as vaccination became better understood.

      October 5, 2011 at 16:18 | Report abuse |
    • Chartreuxe

      Vaccination has eradicated smallpox. The only places the smallpox virus still exists is in storage. The disease is only transmitted from primate to primate. How do you think the worldwide epidemics were stopped? With vitamins and enriched white bread? People were vaccinated in the early 20th Century at gunpoint. Those days may yet come again.

      Cherry-picking statistics from two centuries ago to support your anti-vaccine crusade doesn't validate your point. No matter how clean the water and food supplies, disease will still be endemic and passed from one person to another. Ever read about Ebola or the Marburg virus?

      October 5, 2011 at 17:07 | Report abuse |
    • elle

      It has been eradicated, except for storage. However, that means one day it will be out.

      October 6, 2011 at 00:44 | Report abuse |
  2. Someone with a Wider Perspective on the matter...

    The 9th edition of The Encyclopedia Britannica was published 1875 and was current until 1889; moreover, during this period, the publisher underwent significant financial setbacks that resulted in a significant loss of talent. Further, while this particular edition has been termed "The Scholar's Edition" this was mostly a marketing ploy and it was considered outdated by the turn of the 20th century. Nevertheless, this author's argument will not proceed from the premise of an outdated source; however, it was felt that it was necessary to present the information as background information.

    The poverty of analysis that is observed all too often in our society results not from a lack of data. Rather, it results from a lack of background information. Moreover, this would seem to be a self perpetuating construct in as much as biases and belief in misinformation promote the acceptance of information which supports the ideas that the individual has found comforting or satisfying. When combined with a fundamental misunderstanding of the manner in which vaccines -as well as the immune system- function, ignorance of the historical context can create the oddest of impressions.

    While either a course in the pathogenesis, pathophysiology, and pathology of smallpox or a course in immunology is beyond the scope of even an extensive blog entry suffice it to say that it would not be until 1876 that a disease would be shown to proceed from infection with a microorganism; the microorganism that causes cholera would not be found until 1885. Indeed, at the time, the miasma theory of disease still carried considerable intellectual force; particularly, when the illness is transmitted via the respiratory passages. The fundamental mistake in Sarah's analysis is that the number of infections among the vaccinated is not the same as the number of vaccinated that fell ill. Further, the analysis begs the question "ill with what?" variola major or minor, hemoragic, or malignant. I hope these lines cause some thought in Sarah and others.

    October 5, 2011 at 17:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • nimrod

      Very informative and well written, however, the term "begs the question" doesn't mean what you think it does and is almost NEVER used correctly. Just a little pet peeve of mine.

      October 6, 2011 at 02:27 | Report abuse |
  3. kim

    I saw a PBS show where parasites such as the Guinea worm were discussed, it is awful, like something out of a horror film. I truly hope they can eradicate the dreadful disease. I believe it is also called river blindness because the worms take up residence in the eyes and cause blindness. A truly horrid creature and disease. Many people who get it end up killing themselves because of the pain and distress of feeling the worms moving inside their bodies as it destroys from the inside out. Horrible!

    October 5, 2011 at 19:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Guest

    Why dont we cure people diseases before we help worms?

    Have you ever even seen a sick worm?

    In all seriousness though,scary as hell.The last thing id want is worms

    October 6, 2011 at 06:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Barry

    The decline in infectious diseases in developed countries had nothing to do with vaccinations, but with the decline in poverty and hunger and improvement of clean water and proper disposal of sewage."Dr Buchwald, M.D.

    "Up to 90% of the total decline in the death rate of children between 1860-1965 because of whooping cough, scarlet fever, diptheria, and measles occurred before the introduction of immunizations and antibiotics."Dr Archie Kalokerinos, M.D

    Vaccines have NEVER been proven to work. There has NEVER been one double blind study done on any vaccine. Also NO Where do vaccines claim they will cure, heal or prevent. The only thing a vaccine can do is create an antibody. There is no proof of anything beyond that..

    October 6, 2011 at 10:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Barry

    Here is more proof vaccines don't work.....Again there has never been one double blind study done on vaccines to show they work..............................According to the CDC’s own website they claim the flu vaccine saves lives, here is evidence to the contrary. Again this information can be verified on the CDC’s own website.
    In the history of flu vaccines, there were two years in which the formulated flu vaccine was a total mismatch to the widely-circulating influenza that made people sick. These years were 1968 and 1997. In both of these years, the vaccine was a completely mismatch for the circulating virus. In effect, nobody was vaccinated! [Knowing this, if the vaccine itself was effective at reducing death rates, then we should have once again seen a huge spike in the death rates during these two years, right? Seriously, if the vaccine reduces death rates by 50% as is claimed by vaccine manufacturers, then these two years in which the vaccine completely missed the mark should have seen huge spikes in the winter death rates, right? But what really happened was… nothing. Not a blip. Not a spike. Nothing. The death rates didn’t rise at all. If vaccines really worked to save lives, then the more people you vaccinate, the lower death rates you should see, right? But that’s not the case. Back in 1989, only 15 percent of over-65 people got vaccinated against the flu. But today, thanks to the big vaccine push, over 65 percent are vaccinated. And yet, amazingly, death rates among the elderly have not gone down during the flu season. In fact, they’ve gone up!

    October 6, 2011 at 10:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. c s

    Vaccinations do not work!!!! What absurdity. Look around you, how many people do you know that have polio? When I was a kid, polio was not some abstract thing in a book. It was a real disease and it scared the hell out of most people. The President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt had it happen to him and it crippled him for the rest of his life. I personally know people who have had polio and it has affected their life to the present day. You can beleive what you want and forgo vaccines but that will not change what a disease can do to you.

    Two things have led to a longer life for most people in this world:
    1. Clean drinking water and sanitation treatment of sewage. Diseases like cholera are almost non-existent in modern countries due clean water and sewage plants.
    2. Vaccines against diseases.

    October 6, 2011 at 12:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Diane W Farr

    the public has been fooled into believing vaccines work; vaccines coincidentally were implemented the same time that we had access to clean drinking water, knowledge to wash our hands, and public sewer systems. the govenment will not admit they are guilty of causing 1 out of 6 kids with learning disabilities, 1 in 100 with autism, an epidemic of food allergies, and the highest infant mortality rate. the government and pharma are insulting our intelligence and before long they will sell us on the idea that we have to accept this to prevent a few deaths from disease.

    October 6, 2011 at 13:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Torres

      I had an experience just ysadertey. I'm pregnant and went in for a 3 1/2 mo check up. The Dr. asked if I had the H1N1 vaccine yet, and I said no . She matter of factly said that's ok, we'll get that for you then before you leave today. I replied that I would not get it. She GASPED, and said WHY! , in a very shocked tone. She wanted all my reasons. I told her this was not up for discussion as I did not want to argu the point. (I knew that if I gave her a reason, she'd probably have a good comeback.) She tried and tried, and then used guilt to tell me don't you realize that you are at more risk and you are putting yourself and your unborn infant at risk of dying if you contract the H1N1. !!! She made me feel like a terrible person and an irresponsible mother I still told her no', and she just couldn't understand why. While I am not an infant, my baby is and will also be affected by any immunizations I would receive. She made an interesting comment to me . she stated that when the baby is born, he/she cannot have the shot for the first 6 months of life, so if I get the shot now, it will protect the baby now and for the first several months of life so if even the Dr. will not give a new infant the shot, then WHY would I want to allow the immunization to get into my 3 1/2 mo old child still in the womb? I just want the truth, and as long as we are being used as guinea pigs, and they are trying to pump us full of experimental drugs, I will be cautious about what I allow to be put inside of me. We just don't know what side effects will come of this drug yet, and may not know for 10+ years, as we have seen of other drugs, or their ingredients thimerisol , etc I know I'm not a bad parent, I'm tring to make the best decision for me and my unborn child. I guess she said enough though that makes me think, did I do the right thing? I hope I don't get it (h1n1), and I hope it is not serious if I do BUT I drink my green smoothie every day. I am taking care of myself and I very rarely get sick, so I feel I made the right choice. If I ever have been to the Dr. for something, they always seem stunned when I say no to all the sicknesses, diseases on their list never had them I just can't believe they push SO hard and make you feel like a bad person if you don't follow the crowd. One thing I know is that people for the most part, feel VERY strongly about either side they are on but which one is right? For me and my family, good healthy habbits and good sanitation will take care of most anything that would/could be a potential problem.

      March 6, 2012 at 00:05 | Report abuse |
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