By NewsDesk  @infectiousdiseasenews

In 2019, the number of Guinea Worm disease cases tallied were 53, with most cases reported from Chad, nearly double the number seen in 2018.

Guinea worm
Image/Video Screen Shot

Today, the Carter Center reports the total cases in 2020 has dropped back down to 27 cases in 6 countries.

In addition, Guinea worm infections in animals fell 20% in the same period.

During 2020, only 12 human cases of Guinea worm disease were reported in Chad, a dramatic 75 percent reduction from 48 the previous year. Eleven cases were reported in Ethiopia, and one each in South Sudan, Angola, Mali, and Cameroon.

As for Guinea worm infections in animals, Chad reported 1,570 (1,507 domestic dogs, 61 domestic cats, and two wild cats), Ethiopia reported 15 (eight domestic dogs, three domestic cats, four baboons), and Mali reported eight infected domestic dogs.

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“The Chad Ministry of Health Guinea Worm Eradication Program saw a significant reduction in both human cases and animal infections in 2020,” said Dr. Kashef Ijaz, Carter Center vice president of health programs. “This was achieved through recommitted country and community efforts, innovation, and aggressive, science-based interventions. The dramatic reductions may be an early indication that we’re turning a corner in the most Guinea worm-endemic country.”

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When The Carter Center established itself as a pioneer in neglected tropical disease elimination by assuming leadership of the global Guinea Worm Eradication Program in 1986, about 3.5 million human cases occurred annually in 21 countries in Africa and Asia.

Only one human disease has ever been eradicated; that was smallpox, in 1980. For a disease to be declared eradicated, every country in the world must be certified free of human and animal infection, even countries where transmission has never taken place. To date, 199 countries have been certified free of Guinea worm; only seven have not, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where no case has been reported since 1958. After three consecutive years of indigenous transmission, Angola has been added, as the 22nd country, to the list of endemic countries for the first time. Cameroon was certified by the World Health Organization as Guinea worm-free in 2007; that country has reported one case in each of the last two years but is not endemic because it has not had three years of indigenous transmission.

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Guinea worm disease (dracunculiasis, officially) is usually contracted when people consume water contaminated with tiny crustaceans (called copepods) that carry Guinea worm larvae. The larvae mature and mate inside the patient’s body. The male worm dies. After about a year, a meter-long female worm emerges slowly through an excruciatingly painful blister in the skin, often of the legs or feet. A sufferer may seek relief by dipping the affected limb in water. However, contact with water stimulates the emerging worm to release its larvae into the water and start the process all over again. Guinea worm disease incapacitates people for weeks or months, reducing individuals’ ability to care for themselves, work, grow food for their families, or attend school.

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Without a vaccine or medicine, the ancient parasitic disease is being eradicated mainly through community-based interventions to educate people and change their behavior, such as teaching them to filter all drinking water and preventing contamination by keeping patients from re-entering water sources.

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