Dracunculiasis (or Dracunculosis) is a parasitic infection in man by a nematode, Dracunculus medinensis, aka the Guinea worm.
The parasite makes its way into the human's system as a larva hitching a ride inside a microcrustacean, Cyclops, commonly found in fresh water used for drinking in many parts of Africa and Asia. Once the Cyclops is in the stomach, the larvae abandon the sinking (or disintegrating, as the case may be) crustacean, and migrate through the host's connective tissue for up to a year. Apparently, this is the time during which they mature and mate.
Once a female is fertilized, she heads toward a limb where she produces a blister. She inserts her uterine opening into this blister, which ruptures and becomes ulcerated. When water touches the opening, larvae are expelled, continuing the cycle.
Dracunculiasis is generally discovered during the painful ulcerative stage, although calcified dead worms may be found on X-ray examination.
The preferred treatment method for dracunculiasis is extraction. The end of the female worm's body is pulled through the ulcerated opening and wrapped around a stick. The stick is slowly and gently twisted to pull out the rest of the worm over a couple of days (or weeks, since the worm can get up to 3 meters long). If the worm is removed too forcefully, it may rupture and cause a severe inflammatory tissue reaction.
Of course, the best thing with dracunculiasis is PREVENTION. Boiled or filtered water (or both) and anthelmintics can prevent the disease.
Public Health officials in India have recommended that women use their saris, folded four times, to filter drinking water, which has caused a tremendous reduction in the incidence of dracunculiasis.