Sunday, August 25, 2013

Have you heard about the ‘Rod of Asclepius’

Have you heard about the ‘Rod of Asclepius’ – the snake wrapped around a staff that is a symbol of medicine? Many historians today believe that the snake was originally a worm, a Guinea worm to be precise- Here is the story. Since the beginning of human history, a parasitic worm called ‘Dracunculus medinensis’ or Guinea worm, has plagued people across Africa and Asia. The larvae of Guinea worm are eaten by water fleas that live in still water bodies. When people drink the water, their digestive system destroys the fleas but not the larvae. Some larvae migrate from the small intestine into the body, where they grow and eventually mate with each other. About a year after the infection, adult females, which grow about 2-3 feet long, and full of larvae themselves; make their way to the skin of the person harbouring them. Once they get to the surface, these female Guinea worms begin to secrete acid, which burns them an exit tunnel. The worm then starts to make its way out, and the acid secreted burns the human host so much that he seeks relief in cooling water. As soon as the worm sense water it emits a milky fluid full of thousands of larvae, which start the cycle all over again. In ancient times, the only effective treatment was to wrap the worm around a stick and slowly, but carefully pull it out. The process lasts for many painful weeks. If the process is hurried along too quickly, then the worm breaks, causing even more pain to the host or even death. Early doctors used a simple drawing of the worm wrapped on a stick to show they offered their services of removing the worm by wrapping then around a stick. Today this drawing evolved into the ‘Rod of Asclepius’. Since we know how Guinea worm spreads, awareness has been created about the parasites reproduction. Victims are asked to avoid water when looking for relief and potential victims are asked to avoid water that could be infected. From about 3.5 million cases 25 years ago, the worldwide infestation has today reduced to less than 10,000. 

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