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Mae Melvin, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Guinea Worm Disease May Soon Be Eradicated

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Mae Melvin, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In the 1980s, more than 3.5 million people contracted guinea worm disease (GWD), a parasitic infection spread through drinking water. But by 2014, that number was down to 126. Last year, only 22 people developed GWD, and so far this year, there have only been two confirmed cases, in Chad. Two. If this trend continues, by next year GWD could become the second ever human disease to be completely eradicated, NPR reports.

With the possible exception of helminth therapy, parasite infection is often harmful. Guinea worms (Dracunculus medinensis) start out as small larvae in a body of water. If that water isn’t filtered before someone drinks it, those larvae can enter a person’s body. Once inside the body, they quickly grow, reaching lengths of up to 3 feet before attempting to exit the body via a large blister. Like so many parasites, D. medinensis has a way of getting its host to help advance its spread; blisters are often hot to the touch, which drives infected people to submerge their limbs in water. Once in the water, the parasite can release its larvae, and the whole process starts all over again.

Infection with D. medinensis in itself isn’t fatal, but it can be incredibly painful. There is no vaccine to prevent GWD, and no medication to treat infection, so once the parasite has taken hold, the only way to rid someone of the worm to pull it out—a gruesome process that, in rural areas, can lead to more pain and infected wounds.

Fortunately, there’s a fairly simple solution: filtered water (even pouring it through a piece of cloth can help), and staying away from water in which infected people have been bathing. But spreading the word about those preventive measures has been tricky, as the last holdouts of GWD territory are rural areas and villages with little access to resources. Public health officials, who are typically outsiders who don’t speak the local language, have had a hard time finding a foothold to pass the message along. But in recent years, a combination of local education about how the disease spreads, new laws intended to keep infected people from entering a water source, and consequences for breaking those laws have made a huge dent in the number of cases.  

The fight against GWD was taken up decades ago by a powerful ally: Jimmy Carter. The former president has made GWD eradication, and disease eradication in general, a major priority for his Carter Center.

“We know every person in the world that has guinea worm,” Carter told mental_floss in 2015. “So we have to monitor villages that didn’t show a case last year and make sure that those cases that we have identified don’t go in the water and spread the disease to future drinkers … I don’t think there’s a doubt that in the next two or three years we’ll find the last case.”

[h/t NPR]

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Medicine
Why Haven't We Cured Cancer Yet?
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Walkathons, fundraisers, and ribbon-shaped bumper stickers raise research dollars and boost spirits, but cancer—the dreaded disease that affects more than 14 million people and their families at any given time—still remains bereft of a cure.

Why? For starters, cancer isn't just one disease—it's more than 100 of them, with different causes. This makes it impossible to treat each one using a one-size-fits-all method. Secondly, scientists use lab-grown cell lines cultivated from human tumors to develop cancer therapies. Living masses are far more complex, so potential treatments that show promise in lab experiments often don't work on cancer patients. As for the tumors themselves, they're prone to tiny genetic mutations, so just one growth might contain multiple types of cancer cells, and even unique sub-clones of tumors. These distinct entities might not respond the same way, or at all, to the same drug.

These are just a few of the challenges that cancer researchers face—but the good news is that they're working to beat all of them, as this TED-Ed video explains below.

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Health
Skipping Breakfast Could Be Bad for Your Heart
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There are mountains of evidence supporting the claim that breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Getting something in your stomach in the first hours of the morning can regulate your glucose levels, improve your cognition, and keep your hunger in check. Now new research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology points to another reason not to wait until lunchtime to break last night’s fast. As TIME reports, people who skip breakfast are at an increased risk for atherosclerosis, a disease caused by plaque buildup in the arteries.

Researchers surveyed over 4000 men and women between the ages of 40 and 54 living in Spain. After looking at the dietary habits of each participant, they broke them into three groups: people who consumed more than 20 percent of their daily calories in the morning; those who got 5 to 20 percent; and those who ate less than 5 percent.

The subjects who ate very little in the a.m. hours or skipped breakfast all together were 2.5 more likely to have generalized atherosclerosis. This meant that plaque was starting to collect on the walls of their arteries, hardening and narrowing them and increasing the risk for heart attack or stroke. People who fell into the 5 to 20 percent calorie category were also more likely to show early signs of the disease, while those who ate the most calories in the morning were the healthiest.

These results aren’t entirely surprising. Previous studies have shown a connection between skipping breakfast and health problems like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and unwanted weight gain. A possible explanation for this trend could be that waiting several hours after waking up to eat your first meal of the day could trigger hormonal imbalances. The time between getting into and out of bed is the longest most of us go without eating, and our bodies expect us to consume some calories to help kickstart our energy for the day (drinking straight coffee doesn’t cut it). Another theory is that people who don’t eat in the morning are so hungry by the time lunch rolls around that they overcompensate for those missing calories, which is why skipping breakfast doesn’t make sense as a diet strategy.

But of course there are many breakfast skippers who aren’t motivated by health reasons either way: They just don’t think they have the time or energy to feed themselves in the morning before walking out the door. If this describes you, here are some simple, protein-packed meals you can prepare the night before.

[h/t TIME]

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