Symptoms and Signs of Guinea Worm Disease (Dracunculiasis)

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 9/14/2021

Doctor's Notes on Guinea Worm Disease (Dracunculiasis)

Guinea worm disease (GWD, or Dracunculus medinensis) is an infection caused by the parasite Dracunculus medinensis that results in painful skin lesions when the worm emerges from them. The site where the worm emerges from the skin is often susceptible to secondary bacterial infection. When people drink or swallow contaminated water in countries that have not eradicated the disease, a small aquatic crustacean that is a vector of the disease (copepod) is ingested and releases worm larvae that mature to result in skin lesions.

Symptoms of Guinea worm disease may not occur for about a year after the worm enters the body because of the long incubation period. Early symptoms of Guinea worm disease may include 

This is followed by a leg and/or foot swelling with bumps that resemble hives, then a blister or lesion on the skin that has a burning feeling. This can turn into a lesion like a skin ulcer and the white-colored worm emerges from the lesion when the burning painful lesions are placed in cool water. The lesions are very painful and can be debilitating.

What is the treatment for guinea worm disease?

  • There is no drug available to treat Guinea worm disease.
  • There is also no vaccine available to prevent the condition.
  • When the worm starts to emerge from the wound, it can be pulled out over time, usually over a period of weeks.
  • Medications can be given to reduce pain and swelling. It is also possible for the worm to be surgically removed.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.