The Eternal Itch: Dante’s Eighth Circle of Hell
Onchocerciasis or River Blindness is caused by a parasite endemic to Africa that is transferred to a person by the bite of a blackfly. The parasite matures in the host within a year, and then reproduces up to a thousand tiny worms per day.
When untreated, those microfilarial worms invade the skin and travel throughout the body. That results in extreme, extensive, and persistent itching, along with subcutaneous bumps and eventual blindness after they burrow into the eyes.
The parasite has infected up to 25 million people (almost all in Africa), and suicide due to the debilitating itch is unfortunately not uncommon.
There are many reports of people in Africa who never get relief despite deep and intense scratching. In the worst cases, individuals have resorted to heating machetes over a fire and using the hot blades to “numb” or skin their backs out of desperation. Some have used broken shards of ceramic pots to try to gouge the worms out to no avail, and others have dumped boiling hot water on themselves in an attempt to feel “better” — anything to make the itching stop.
Two of this year’s Nobel Prize winners in Medicine, Drs. Omura (Japan) and Campbell (USA) were recognized for their discovery of a drug used to treat River Blindness. More: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2015/press.html
Source: +Johnathan Chung responds to a question in the Science on Google+ community. The best comments or answers to questions will be posted as part of our #Askascientist series. Do you have science questions for us? Use the Science Outreach category to ask the science community.