May 30, 2015 10:10 am

This Sunday, Say Goodbye to the Guinea Worm

Photo of former President Jimmy Carter comforting a little girl with guinea worm disease.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter tries to comfort 6-year-old Ruhama Issah at Savelugu Hospital as a Carter Center technical assistant dresses Issah’s extremely painful Guinea worm wound. Credit: Louise Gubb/The Carter Center

Which former US president was an engineer and nuclear physicist?

Which former US president was in charge of building the second nuclear submarine, the Seawolf?

Finally, which former US president has led the battle against the guinea worm, reducing the number of worldwide cases of the disease from 3.5 million in 1986 to 126 cases today?

The answer to all three questions is Jimmy Carter.

And while former President Carter and Neil deGrasse Tyson do discuss the first two achievements in this Sunday’s podcast, it is the last of these on which the episode is focused.

How bad is the guinea worm?

The way Mark Siddall, our guest expert on parasites, describes it, it sounds excruciatingly similar to an Alien bursting out of one’s body.

Which is exactly what female guinea worms do, in order to complete their lifecycle and reproduce.

But wait. There’s more.

The Carter Center’s hit list of diseases also includes malaria, trachoma, and river blindness. Just wait until you hear Mark describe that one to Neil and Chuck Nice.

(Oh, and did we happen to mention that Mark tweets with the handle @theleechguy?)

The good news is that we’re on the cusp of eradicating our second disease. But unlike the first disease we wiped out, smallpox, guinea worms can’t be kept dormant and frozen. When we wipe out the last guinea worm, which needs a human body in which to survive, we will have made an entire species extinct.

As bad as some may feel that is, the Leech Guy makes a pretty persuasive argument for eradication.

Tune in this Sunday to hear him for yourself.

You’ll also get to hear Bill Nye warn us about how our real enemies are the ones we can’t see without a microscope.

Join us for Combating Disease with Jimmy Carter on May 31 at 7:00 PM ET on our website, iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn and SoundCloud.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!
–Jeffrey Simons


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