Dracunculiasis is infection with Dracunculus medinensis, a nematode worm. It is caused by drinking water containing water fleas (Cyclops species) that have ingested Dracunculus larvae. In the human body, the larvae are released and migrate through the intestinal wall into body tissues, where they develop into adult worms. The female worms move through the person’s subcutaneous tissue, causing intense pain, and eventually emerge through the skin, usually at the feet, producing edema, a blister and eventually an ulcer, accompanied by fever, nausea, and vomiting. If they come into contact with water as they are emerging, the female worms discharge their larvae, setting in motion a new life cycle.
The painful, burning sensation experienced by infected people has led to the disease being called "the fiery serpent". Other symptoms include fever, nausea, and vomiting. Female worms cause allergic reactions during blister formation as they migrate to the skin, causing an intense burning pain. Such allergic reactions produce rashes, nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, and localized edema. When the blister bursts, allergic reactions subside, but skin ulcers form, through which the worm can protrude. Death of adult worms in joints can lead to arthritis and paralysis in the spinal cord
There is no vaccine to prevent, nor is there any medication to treat the disease. However, prevention is possible and it is through preventive strategies that the disease is on the verge of eradication. Some of these strategies are:
heightening surveillance to detect every case within 24 hours of worm emergence;preventing transmission from each worm by treatment, cleaning and bandaging regularly the affected skin-area until the worm is completely expelled from the body; preventing drinking water contamination by advising the patient to avoid wading into water; ensuring wider access to improved drinking-water supplies to prevent infection; filtering water from open water bodies before drinking; implementing vector control by using the larvicide temephos; promoting health education and behaviour change.