Tag Archives: Medicine

D. medinensis: Dragon Worms in Your Body

I have to agree with this one. Some extinctions might be OK. The extinction of Dracunculus medinensis, the “dragon worm,” also known as the guinea worm, is one example.

D. medinensis is almost extinct now.

Unlike smallpox, which the UN World Health Organization wiped out in 1977, the Guinea worm (D. medinensis) has been driven almost to extinction by the efforts of former President Carter and his Carter Center. The Carter Center is a non-governmental organization.

The disease is caused by the female which, at up to 800 mm (31 in) in length, is among the longest nematodes infecting humans. In contrast, the longest recorded male Guinea worm is only 40 mm (1.6 in).


The Dracunculus medinensis life cycle starts when somebody drinks water contaminated with tiny, almost invisible crustaceans known as copepods–Anna Rothschild called them “water fleas”–that have been infected with larval guinea worms. Once swallowed by a human, the copepod is digested, but the larval worms inside it live on and infect the human.

D. medinensis larvae
D. medinensis larvae

After the D. medinensis larvae are released, they migrate through the intestinal wall into the abdominal cavity, where they mature and mate. No wonder people get sick, with playful 31-inch worms crawling around inside their bellies.

When the appropriate time comes, the pregnant female worm eats her way through subcutaneous tissues, usually until she reaches an ankle, where she releases just a few larvae at first. These produce a blister on the skin that itches so badly that people usually put their feet in water to relieve the itching, whereupon she releases the rest of them into  the water to infect the resident copepods and start the cycle all over again.

The female guinea worm slowly starts to come out a little way from the host’s skin after the blister ruptures, and patients keep their feet under water to encourage her to emerge enough so they can very gently get hold of her and begin winding her around a piece of gauze, if available. More commonly, they use a small stick. They wind her very gently, so as not to break her. If they break part of her body off, the rest will stay inside and die and rot and cause serious infection. Complete extraction usually takes several days.

Winding the worm around the stick this way is thought by some to be the source of the Rod of Asclepius, the symbol of medicine.

Ex-President Jimmy Carter and his Carter Center, working with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the UN World Health Organization, began a program in the 1980s to eradicate D. medinensis. In 1986, 20 countries were affected by the worms.

The program included educating people in the affected areas to know that the disease was caused by drinking contaminated water, isolating and supporting sufferers, distributing filters for drinking water, and educating people about using them.

As of this year, D. medinensis has been reported to be almost extinct.

This is surely a very good thing, and I admire President Carter and his Carter Center tremendously for their work.

A caution

Nevertheless, this is tampering with nature. I wonder whether or not anybody knows what the effects will be? Have there been environmental studies? Do we know what water creatures may prey on the larvae that we may starve into extinction by robbing them of their food? We know the copepods do, and they may not be the only thing. Besides, what eats the copepods that may also starve if we starve the copepods? All I’m saying is that it’s complicated. Everything in nature is, and somebody probably ought to look at it. Maybe somebody did and I’m just not finding it.

On the other hand, it seems like very minor tampering compared to what we do all the time. I’m not suggesting we stop preventing infections. I’m just suggesting that next time we start to deliberately drive an organism extinct, maybe we ought to do a study while we’re getting started. Just in case.


Note: August 21, 2015 – I just heard President Carter say (on a video) that when he started his eradication program, there were 3.6 million cases of guinea worm and now we are down to 11 cases. He has recently had a cancer removed from his liver and he still has four melanomas in his brain, but he hopes the last guinea worm will die before he does. The video is here.



Long Overdue Marijuana Bill


Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and Rand Paul announce a new medical marijuana bill at the US Capitol on March 10, 2015 in Washington, D.C. This is a step that is long overdue.

For decades federal law has simply declared that Marijuana is a medically useless and dangerous plant and sought to eradicate it, even where it grows wild. Medical researchers have been all but forbidden to even check to see if it has any true medicinal properties.

In recent years, several states have legalized the plant for medical purposes, but users there were still in danger of arrest and prosecution by federal authorities. Even this semi-legal medical use relies mostly on anecdote, rather than research to determine need, dosage, etc.because the federal government and many states have hindered research.

Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker (L), and Rand Paul
Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker (L), and Rand Paul

This bill needs to be passed so people with glaucoma, cancer, chronic pain, and many other diseases and conditions can safely benefit from the drug. If it were legal, I myself would have tried it long ago in an attempt to seek relief from my own chronic pain. Because of federal and state laws, I never have been able to.

Of course, even if this becomes federal law, state law here in Texas may still prevent my trying it.

Five Ways to Save 6.6 Million Babies Per Year

Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation


“The news on the childhood mortality front is both very good and very bad. Millions have been saved, but millions are still dying. Melinda Gates, in an address to the World Health Assembly, offers some smart solutions.”

FIRST THE GOOD NEWS: In 1990, the United Nations set goals to improve human health and equality. Because of this, childhood mortality rates around the world have dropped 47%, which means 17 million children lived last year who would otherwise have died.

NOW THE BAD NEWS:  6.6 million babies and small children under the age of five still died, mostly in the Third World. We obviously still have a lot of work to do to wipe out excessive childhood death.

Gates, the wife of Bill Gates, says most of these 6.6 million deaths are preventable:

“I want to be very clear about what I mean when I say preventable,” she added. “I don’t mean theoretically preventable under ideal but unrealistic circumstances. I mean preventable with relatively simple, relatively inexpensive interventions.”

The first three of these interventions are essentially free, and the other two are dirt cheap:

1. Drying the baby completely after birth to prevent hypothermia.

2. Breastfeeding within the first hour of life and exclusively for the first six months, when possible.

3. Practicing “kangaroo care,” or skin-to-skin contact between a baby and its mother or another adult caregiver as much as possible. This increases bonding between the baby and caregiver and increases milk flow in the mother.

4. Resuscitation masks for babies who stop breathing at birth or shortly afterwards. A mask and basic training in its use cost about $5.

5. Use of the antiseptic chlorhexidine to clean the end of the umbilical cord after it’s been cut and prevent fatal infections. This costs just a few cents per application

Gates says these simple, inexpensive practices really work, but they aren’t being used everywhere. If used consistently, they would save most of the 18,000 infants that die every day, week after week and year after year, around the globe.

Resource: http://time.com/105955/gates-infant-mortality-newborns/

Polio Danger Again

Child with Smallpox Bangladesh 1973
Child with Smallpox Bangladesh 1973

“The disease (smallpox) killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans annually during the closing years of the 18th century (including five reigning monarchs), and was responsible for a third of all blindness. Of all those infected, 20–60%—and over 80% of infected children—died from the disease. Smallpox was responsible for an estimated 300–500 million deaths during the 20th century. As recently as 1967, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 15 million people contracted the disease and that two million died in that year.” (Wikipedia)

It was a wonderful thing when the WHO wiped out smallpox in 1979. Now it’s on the verge of wiping out two more horrible human diseases, polio and guinea worm, which causes a crippling and painful infestation in many tropical countries. But WHO needs our cooperation. Diseases don’t become extinct without a lot of work from a lot of people, and a lot of immunizations.

Iron lung with polio patient
Iron lung with polio patient

Polio has been extinct in the United States since 1979. Since then, WHO, in cooperation with many thousands of volunteers, wiped it out in most of the rest of the world. Only corrupt dictators and politicians in less than half-a-dozen backward nations have prevented the completion of these programs.

As of 2013, polio was endemic only in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, although it continues to spread to other nearby countries. For example, despite eradication in China in 2001, an outbreak was confirmed there in September 2011 involving a strain from neighboring Pakistan.

iron lung ward
Iron lung ward filled with polio patients, Rancho Los Amigos Hospital, California (1953)

But vaccination rates have  dropped in the United States and other industrialized countries in recent years, prompting concerns of reemergence. Now polio is spreading again because so many people refuse to vaccinate their children.

On May 5, the WHO declared polio a global emergency. At least 10 countries are reporting polio cases this year, with potential for spread to others via international travel.

We do NOT want polio back in our country. Or anywhere else, either.

A Little Worm

a little worm
a little worm

So do I, Sir David. I cannot believe in that kind of god.

Another person I have to wonder about is the sweet little nine-year-old Heidi, in San Antonio, Texas, who was kidnapped in August, 1990, by someone she apparently trusted. He raped her repeatedly, eventually throttled her to death with her own underwear, and left her body in a field to rot. (I didn’t personally know Heidi, but my then-wife was her music teacher.)

Presumably your god also created the monster that did this.

And don’t talk to me about the monster’s “god-given” free will, unless you’re also ready to explain why he let the monster take away the little girl’s own “god-given” free will.

Heidi came from a devout Christian home. Where was the god they loved and prayed to?

Marijuana: a powerful medicine

This is just one of the reasons we need to change our draconian marijuana laws, both at the state and national levels. I personally have never once used the drug in any form, but I’ve often wished I could try it legally to see if it would help the chronic pain I’ve suffered for the past 60 years. Our laws in Texas and most other states won’t even let scientists and doctors experiment with it to see if it could be useful. See what we’re missing out on as a result?