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Dracunculiasis Treatment & Management

  • Author: Vinod K Dhawan, MD, FACP, FRCPC, FIDSA; Chief Editor: Russell W Steele, MD  more...
Updated: Feb 01, 2016

Medical Care

The mainstay of treatment is the extraction of the adult worm from the patient using a stick at the skin surface and wrapping or winding the worm a few centimeters per day. Because the worm can be as long as one meter in length, full extraction can take several days to weeks. This slow process is required to avoid breakage and leaving behind a portion of the worm.

Each day, the affected body part is immersed in a container of water to encourage more of the worm to come out. The wound is cleaned and gentle traction is applied to the worm to slowly pull it out. Pulling stops when resistance is met to avoid breaking the worm. The worm is wrapped around a stick to maintain some tension on the worm and encourage more of the worm to emerge. Topical antibiotics are applied to the wound to prevent secondary bacterial infections and the affected body part is then bandaged with fresh gauze to protect the site. These steps are repeated every day until the whole worm is successfully pulled out.

Analgesics, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, are given to help ease the pain of this process and reduce inflammation.

No specific drug is used to treat dracunculiasis. Metronidazole or thiabendazole (in adults) is usually adjunctive to stick therapy and somewhat facilitates the extraction process. However, one study found that antihelminthic therapy was associated with aberrant migration of worms, resulting in infection in areas other than the lower extremity. Therefore, such medications should be used with caution.


Surgical Care

See the list below:

  • The worm also can be excised surgically where such facilities are available.


See the list below:

  • Suspicion of dracunculiasis based on history or examination findings warrants consultation of an infectious disease specialist for involvement in management and follow-up care. This also allows for initiation of epidemiologic protocol if the patient presents in a nonendemic country.


See the list below:

  • No particular dietary changes are required during the extraction process, regardless of the time involved.


See the list below:

  • Activity is usually self-restricted because of discomfort. Recommendations are tailored for the individual, with no particular general guidelines.
Contributor Information and Disclosures

Vinod K Dhawan, MD, FACP, FRCPC, FIDSA Professor, Department of Clinical Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine; Chief, Division of Infectious Diseases, Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center

Vinod K Dhawan, MD, FACP, FRCPC, FIDSA is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians, American Medical Association, American Society for Microbiology, Infectious Diseases Society of America, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada

Disclosure: Received honoraria from Pfizer Inc for speaking and teaching.

Specialty Editor Board

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Martin Weisse, MD Program Director, Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, West Virginia University

Martin Weisse, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Academic Pediatric Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Russell W Steele, MD Clinical Professor, Tulane University School of Medicine; Staff Physician, Ochsner Clinic Foundation

Russell W Steele, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of Immunologists, American Pediatric Society, American Society for Microbiology, Infectious Diseases Society of America, Louisiana State Medical Society, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, Society for Pediatric Research, Southern Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Michael D Nissen, MBBS FRACP, FRCPA, Associate Professor in Biomolecular, Biomedical Science & Health, Griffith University; Director of Infectious Diseases and Unit Head of Queensland Paediatric Infectious Laboratory, Sir Albert Sakzewski Viral Research Centre, Royal Children's Hospital

Michael D Nissen, MBBS is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia, Royal Australasian College of Physicians, American Society for Microbiology, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


The authors and editors of eMedicine gratefully acknowledge the contributions of previous author Shuvo Ghosh, MD, to the original writing and development of this article.

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A method used to extract a guinea worm from the leg vein of a human patient.
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