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Old 06-17-2006, 11:34 PM   #21 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Carl Zimmer
People knew about parasites elsewhere in the world. The ancient Egpytians and Chinese prescribed different sorts of plants to destroy worms that lived in the gut. The Koran tells its readers to stay away from pigs and from stagnant water, both sources of parasites. For the most part, though, this ancient knowledge has only left a shadow on history. The quivering strings of flesh -- now known as guinea worms -- may have been the fiery serpents that the Bible describes plaguing the Israelites in the desert. They certainly plagued much of Asia and Africa. They couldn't be yanked out at one go, since they would snap in two and the remnant inside the body would die and cause a fatal infection. The universal cure for guinea worm was to rest for a week, slowly winding the worm turn by turn onto a stick to keep it alive until it had crawled free. Someone figured out this cure, someone forgotten now for perhaps thousands of years. But it may be that that person's invention was remembered in the symbol of medicine, known as the caduceus: two serpents wound around a staff.

more on the medical symbol:
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