WHO updates fact sheet on Dracunculiasis (25 April 2018)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently updated its fact sheet on Guinea-worm disease (Dracunculiasis).

Background Information:

Dracunculiasis (commonly known as guinea-worm disease) is a crippling parasitic disease caused by Dracunculus medinensis – a long, thread-like worm. It is transmitted exclusively when people drink stagnant water contaminated with parasite-infected water fleas (Cyclops) that carry infective guinea-worm larvae. 

Dracunculiasis is rarely fatal, but infected people become non-functional for weeks. It affects people in rural, deprived and isolated communities who depend mainly on open surface water sources such as ponds for drinking water.

Key Messages:

Dracunculiasis is a crippling parasitic disease on the verge of eradication, with only 30 human cases reported in 2017.

Of the 20 countries that were endemic for the disease in the mid-1980s, only 2 reported cases in 2017: Chad (15 cases) and Ethiopia (15 cases).

In March 2018, South Sudan, which reported human cases until 2016, announced it has succeeded in interrupting transmission of the disease.

From the time infection occurs, it takes between 10–14 months for the transmission cycle to complete until a mature worm emerges from the body.

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:

  • 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.

As the incubation period of the worm takes between 10–14 months, a single missed case will delay eradication efforts by a year or more. 

To be declared free of dracunculiasis, a country needs to have reported 0 instances of transmission and maintained active surveillance for at least 3 years afterwards.

Since 1995 the International Commission for the Certification of Dracunculiasis Eradication (ICCDE) has met 12 times and on its recommendation WHO has certified 199 countries, territories and areas (belonging to 187 Member States) as free of dracunculiasis.

The last country to attain this status in February 2017 was Kenya, a formerly endemic country.

Useful Links:

Link to the WHO news release:


Link to WHO page on Dracunculiasis:


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