Friday, March 31, 2006

A Gripping Story About An Ancient Horror

The New York Times has been running an incredible series about diseases racking the Third World. Last Sunday, Donald G. McNeil Jr. wrote a fantastic piece about an incredibly disgusting parasite called the Guinea worm. You get it by drinking larvae-infested water. The little bugs hatch into three feet long spaghetti size worms that make their way out of the human body by secreting acids that burn a hole in the skin. Then they wiggle out. While the worms usually exit through the legs or feet, they can break their way out of an eye or breast.

It sounds like a bad science fiction movie. And of course, the Guinea worm can be eradicated; only no one bothered to try. The U.S. was too busy spending money in more important places, like Vietnam and Iraq. Fortunately, President Jimmy Carter has focused the Carter Institute’s attention on the Guinea Worm and cases in Africa have dropped dramatically.

I do not remember reading McNeil before, but he is an exceptional writer. The article is devastating, complex, and richly textured. Friday’s Times has an article by Celia Dugger on trachoma, an eye disease, and while horrifying, the article about it is much more mundane.

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