For several years running now, humankind has been on the verge of wiping out another species entirely -- on purpose and with good reason. Julian Huguet has the details in today's decidedly oogy DNews report.
Even though it's on the edge of extinction, no activists are coming to the defense of the guinea worm -- one of the planet's most horrific organisms. Technically termed a nematode, it's a parasite that lives in contaminated water, and you really don't want to ingest it. Once guinea worm larvae get to the intestine, they chew their way out and burrow into the abdominal muscles. After growing to maturity, the guinea worms commence to mating -- in your abdomen, mind you -- and the female works its way down into the leg.
It gets worse. Female guinea worms can grow to more than a meter in length, and the last portion of their life cycle is the stuff of body trauma nightmares. The worm chews its way out of the leg or foot, causing a wound which it then further inflames by spitting out irritants. When victims attempt to sooth the burn by putting their feet in water, the mama worm expels millions of embryos, starting the process all over again.
Modern medicine has no vaccine or drug that kills the guinea worm. The only way to get rid of it, once it has migrated to the legs, is to cut it out or literally reel it out around a stick, couple of centimeters at a time, over the course of weeks.
Here's the good news: The guinea worm has been very nearly eradicated thanks to preventative measures alone, including water filter distribution and a massive campaign of public education. In 1980, there more more than three million cases of guinea worm disease. In 2015, there were 22.
Here's the bad news: The guinea worm -- previously believed to be an exclusively human parasite -- appears to have adapted and jumped species over to dogs. After decades of coordinated efforts worldwide, the guinea worm was on the edge of becoming the first parasitic disease to be globally eradicated by modern medicine.
Alas, the worm may have dodged extinction after all. Check out Julian's report for more details, including some interesting bits on smallpox -- the one disease humans have fully eradicated. Double Secret Bonus Fact: Even the guinea worm's scientific classification name is scary: Dracunculus medinensis.