Man in Vietnam Contracts Mystery Worm Infection

Vietnam worm infection
a)L1 larvae of Dracunculus collected from a femoral abscess.(b)Dracunculus worm extraction surgery on the patient’s upper arm.(c),(d)Images of software lesions under the skin of the patient’s thighs and lower legs.

A 23-year-old man in Vietnam contracted a worm infection with an unknown species of Dracunculus worm.

In May 2020, a 23-year-old man in Vietnam presented to the hospital with anorexia, fatigue, muscle pain, abscesses, and worms hanging out of the lesions on his legs. The young man visited multiple health facilities, but none could make a diagnosis. Later at the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases, doctors drained the abscesses and manually removed the worms from the patient’s arms and legs. Initially, the doctors suspected it to be Guinea worm disease. However, a recent study published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases has shed new light on the case. According to the study, the man in Vietnam contracted an infection with an unknown species of the parasitic worm, Dracunculus.

Is it the Guinea Worm Disease?

Doctors removed a total of five adult worms measuring 30 to 60 centimetres from the man’s lesions. He further received antiparasitic treatment for a period of four weeks. The doctors initially suspected it to be Guinea worms (D. medinensis); however, those are much longer in length. Therefore, health authorities sent the samples to the CDC for genetic testing. This confirmed it as an unknown species of Dracunculus. Moreover, researchers noted that the mystery worm had many similarities to other species found commonly in reptiles. Thus, indicating its zoonotic origin.

The natural hosts and route of exposure of this presumably zoonotic Dracunculus [species] have yet to be resolved and warrant further investigation and surveillance for similar cases in humans and animals in the region.

study authors

The study authors believe the man most likely must have contracted the parasite through his diet which mostly consists of raw vegetables and fresh fish from local rivers. However, it is far too early to find a definite cause. Moreover, the lack of information makes it more difficult to establish a cause.

Guinea worm disease is caused by D. medinensis, also called the Guinea worm. Once endemic in countries across Asia and Africa, the disease has now reduced more than 99%. The World Health Organization (WHO) has certified a total of 198 countries free of the disease. It could soon become the second disease, after smallpox, to be eradicated from the world.


Thach, P. N., van Doorn, H. R., Bishop, H. S., Fox, M. S., Sapp, S. G. H., Cama, V. A., & Duyet, L. V. (2021). Human infection with an unknown species of Dracunculus in Vietnam. International Journal of Infectious Diseases, 105, 739–742.


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