War against the Guinea worm
“I’d like for the last Guinea worm to die before I do,” former President Jimmy Carter said when announcing his cancer diagnosis in 2015.
Last year, the Carter Center was tantalizingly close to seeing his wish come true: Its partners had reduced Guinea worms infections by 99.99 percent—from an estimated 3.5 million cases in 1986 to only 30 cases in two countries. If eradicated, the Guinea worm would become the second disease to be wiped out after smallpox, and the first parasite.
Now infected dogs in Chad threaten to undo years of work.
The Guinea worm infects people through contaminated water. After a year’s incubation, the 3-foot long female worm emerges through painful sores on the feet, legs, back, or genitals. The infection incapacitates for weeks, making it difficult for villagers to work and care for their families. This means large-scale outbreaks are economically crippling to already poor communities.
Eradication depends on prevention, as there is no effective vaccine. The parasite cannot survive without hosts, so workers train locals to strain water through filters, apply larvicide to ponds, and keep infected people away from water sources.
The problem of infected dogs in Chad was first detected in 2012. Last year, more than 800 dogs were infected. Dogs cannot directly infect humans, but they can carry the disease back to water sources.
Scientists like Ernesto Ruiz-Tiben, director of the Guinea Worm Eradication Program, are searching for solutions, noting the need to learn how the dogs become infected. Fish and frogs are suspect. Ruiz-Tiben and others have so far rejected the idea of killing the dogs en masse.
“Our credo is, ‘We’ll be standing until the last worm goes,’” said Ruiz-Tiben. —Harvest Prude
Greenlit marijuana drug
On Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the first time approved a prescription drug made with marijuana plant extracts. GW Research produced the drug Epidiolex to help children suffering from Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, severe forms of epilepsy with few treatment options. Epidiolex is the first FDA-approved drug to treat Dravet syndrome.
Epidiolex contains CBD, a chemical in marijuana that soothes anxiety, reduces inflammation, and relieves pain. It does not contain THC, the chemical in marijuana that creates a high and alters the brain.
The Drug Enforcement Administration classified marijuana extracts as “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” in a ruling that became effective January 2017. Now that the FDA has approved a medicine containing one of those substances, the classification will have to change.
“We’ll continue to support rigorous scientific research on the potential medical uses of marijuana-derived products,” the FDA said in its press announcement. “But, at the same time, we are prepared to take action when we see the illegal marketing of CBD-containing products with serious, unproven medical claims.”
On Tuesday, Oklahoma residents voted to legalize medical marijuana in their state, joining dozens of other states that have already done so. Nine of those states and the District of Columbia have also legalized recreational marijuana.
Despite legal uncertainties surrounding marijuana, which the federal government still considers a controlled substance, doctors have prescribed CBD oils to treat depression, cancer, menstrual cramps, and acne, among other things. Consumers buy CBD products ranging from wellness lotions to CBD lattes. The U.S. hemp industry, which uses a plant from the same family as marijuana, “is poised to reach a $1 billion dollar market in 2018 led by hemp-derived CBD, food, personal care and industrial products,” according to the Hemp Business Journal. —Charissa Crotts