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Elephantiasis, also known as Lymphatic Filariasis is a tropical disease caused by thread like parasitic worms in the human lymphatic system. There is accumulation of watery fluid in limbs - legs , hands and other parts of the body. This causes a swelling and the skin becomes dark and scaly.
Almost all persons suffering from Elephantiasis, live in tropical countries. Tourists are not affected, since repeated mosquito bites over a period of time are required to spread the disease. Almost 120 million people worldwide are affected by Elephantiasis, about a third of which are in India . It is particularly common in coastal parts of India, but many doctors are ignorant and do not diagnose or treat it properly.
The worms which cause Lymphatic filariasis are spread from person to person by mosquitoes. There are 3 species of worms - Wuchereria bancrofti, Brugia malayi and Brugia timori . Wuchereria bancrofti is the most common filariasis parasite, found in India, Africa and Central America. Brugia malayi and Brugia timori are found in South East Asia. The adult worms are four inches long and as fine as human hair. Clusters of these worms nest in the lymph nodes, stretching them so that the lymph fluid cannot circulate properly. The adult worms can live for up to seven years and produce millions of larvae.
Swelling of the limbs and other organs is a symptom of Lymphatic filariasis . It is also accompanied by high fever, headache and sudden chills. The symptoms appear 5 to 18 months after the mosquito bite. The larvae are sometimes detected through blood tests conducted at night. Since the lymph system is affected , the immunity of the patient reduces and the patient may suffer from other bacterial infections. If the infection remains untreated, the surrounding tissue may die. The kidneys may also be damaged but this often remains undetected.
The adult worms are resistant to drugs and are too deeply embedded in the body to be removed surgically. Drugs developed by the pharmaceutical companies try to kill the baby worms or microfilarie. Drugs for treatment of Lymphatic filariasis are Diethylcarbamazine (DEC, Heterazan, Banocide, and Notezine), Ivermectin (Mectizan), Metrifonate (Trichlorphon), Mebendazole and Levamisole . In India, DEC is used but in Africa, Mectizan used also kills other parasites in the body. China has eliminated the disease by distributing the deworming drugs in household salt. A dose of these medicines is taken every year for seven years, till all the worms are killed off.
In addition to taking drugs, the affected area should be cleaned with soap and water to prevent secondary infection. The leg should be elevated while resting to improve circulation. Standard precautions for prevention of mosquito bites should be taken.
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