Elephantiasis (AKA) Lymphatic Filariasis

Elephantiasis

Overview

Lymphatic Filariasis is also called Elephantiasis. Elephantiasis leads to the disfiguring of the body parts that are affected and can be painful.

Elephantiasis is caused by parasitic roundworms that belong to the family Filarioidea. These parasites are transmitted to humans through the infected mosquitoes when they bite.

These larvae that are transmitted by the infected mosquitoes settle in the skin of humans and enter the body. The larvae migrate to the lymphatic vessels and start their life cycle.

Symptoms

Swelling

The main symptom of Elephantiasis is swelling of the affected part. The worms affect the body’s lymphatic system.  

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The lymphatic system is responsible for collecting and removing the waste and toxins from the body. The larvae infect the lymphatic system, and as a result, there will be a blockage.

When the lymphatic system is blocked, it leads to the accumulation of the fluid called lymphatic fluid, and swelling is caused.

Legs

Leg For Elephantiasis

The legs and arms are the most affected part. The swelling can be seen often in the legs and arms.

The entire legs swell to double the normal size and make the legs look like an abnormal round shape, and reassemble an elephant’s leg.

Arms

The swelling of arms is also common in Elephantiasis. The fluid retention causes this swelling and leads to painful enlargement of affected areas.

Genitals

Elephantiasis can affect the genitals of males and females. In males, the enlargement can be seen in the scrotum and penis.  

The penis becomes retracted under the skin and becomes thick, non-elastic and hot. The spermatic cords might also thicken, causing a burning feeling in the affected males.

In females, the external part of the vulva may be affected by Elephantiasis.  

Breasts

Elephantiasis can affect any part, and in some women, breast enlargement can be seen.

Dry and thick skin

The affected skin not only swells but also becomes dry and thick.

Ulcerated, darker than normal and pitted

The affected skin becomes ulcerated and pitted. It becomes dark, and the condition is called Hyperkeratosis.

Causes Elephantiasis

Elephantiasis is commonly caused by three roundworms and is listed below.

Wuchereria bancrofti

Wuchereria bancrofti is a nematode that is the major cause of Elephantiasis. It belongs to the filarial, and it is arthropod-borne.

These worms multiply in the lymphatic system of humans, and they spread from one person to another through mosquito bites.

Brugia malayi

Brugia malayi is also one of the causative agents of Elephantiasis. It is also classified as filarial and arthropod-borne.  

These worms damage the lymphatic system and cause inflammation. These worms are transmitted through mosquitoes.

Brugia timori

Brugia timori for Elephantiasis

Brugia timori is a filarial nematode. These worms cause “Timorian filariasis”. The infection causes swelling of the legs, arms, breasts and genitals. The infection may spread to the lung and progress as lung disease.  

Diagnosing Elephantiasis

When you see any unusual swelling that does not settle, consult your doctor immediately. Your doctor will diagnose the affected area by a physical examination.

The doctor will ask you about your medical history, your travel history and the place you live. Mostly, people who live in tropical and sub-tropical regions are commonly affected by Elephantiasis.

You might get infected if you travel to a place where people are affected by Elephantiasis. The infection spreads from one person to another through mosquito bites.

The doctor will suggest for a blood test to check whether the roundworms are present in your bloodstream.

Treatment

There are treatments available for Elephantiasis. The doctor will prescribe you diethylcarbamazine (DEC). This drug helps to kill the worms in the bloodstream. This drug can be taken once a year.

The DEC, in combination with ivermectin, has shown long-term results.

Prevention and Coping

Wash and dry the swollen areas daily

Always keep your body parts clean. If you have any mosquito bites, wash them with soap and clean water. Do not damage the mosquito-bitten area by external factors.

Dry the swollen area and do not apply pressure.  

Use moisturisers

Use a moisturiser that is prescribed by your doctor. Do not use any products on your own as they may aggravate your condition.

Check for wounds and use medicated cream on any sore spots.

Have the habit of checking your wounds regularly. If you find any new wounds or sores, consult your doctor immediately.

If you have any creams prescribed by your doctor, you can use them for the time being and then consult your doctor.

Exercise and walk when possible

Exercise when possible. Try to move your affected area. Be careful when moving the swollen area. There may be fluid discharge.

If your arms or legs are swollen, keep them elevated when you’re lying down or seated.

Try to keep your swollen part elevated. This may help you to cope with the pain.

Cover up the skin with long sleeves and trousers

Cover your infected skin with some soft clothes. Make sure you don’t rupture the wounds or swollen area.

Use insect repellent

Use insect repellents to avoid the transmission of the disease. Use a mosquito net when you sleep to safeguard yourself from infections.

Living With Elephantiasis

Elephantiasis is a disease that makes your body parts swell and makes it difficult for you to move and work. You will always be dependent on your daily routine.

Another concern when you get Elephantiasis is you worry more about how people may think about your condition. This can cause depression.

Always talk to your doctor about your mental health. They might help you to cope with mental health conditions.

Conclusion

People in the tropical and the sub-tropical region are more susceptible to the infection. Safeguard yourself from mosquitoes. Apply some mosquito repellents and sleep under mosquito nets.  

Take precautionary action before travelling to places. Try to study the geography of the area and have some emergency drugs with you.

If you have any symptoms or abnormal inflammation, consult your doctor immediately.

FAQ’s

What causes Lymphatic Filariasis?

Lymphatic Filariasis spreads from one person to another through mosquito bites. The mosquito acts as a carrier for Lymphatic Filariasis.

Is elephant leg disease curable?

The elephant leg disease or the Elephantiasis cannot be cured.

Who is at risk for Lymphatic Filariasis?

The tropical and sub-tropical populations are particularly susceptible to infection.

How do you know if you have Lymphatic Filariasis?

Your doctor will examine your symptoms and any inflammation in your skin. If you have symptoms doctor may suggest a blood test.

How is Lymphatic Filariasis diagnosed?

The presence of the worms can be identified with a blood test.

Can Elephantiasis cause death?

Elephantiasis can cause death if not treated on time.

Is there a vaccine for Elephantiasis?

There is no vaccine for Elephantiasis.

Where is Elephantiasis common in India?

Elephantiasis is common in the states of Bihar, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh.

Which parasite causes Elephantiasis?

Elephantiasis is caused by nematode worms. The infection spreads from one person to another through mosquito bites.

What is the best treatment for Filariasis?

The goal of the treatment is to kill the worms. Diethylcarbamazine citrate (DEC) is commonly used to kill adult worms.


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