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Lymphatic Filariasis – A Disease Caused by Mosquitos

Overview:

Lymphatic Filariasis, also known as elephantiasis, is caused due to parasitic worms and spreads among humans through mosquito bites. This tropical and parasitic disease severely affects the lymph nodes and vessels. The common name is deduced from the fact that this disease leads to the swelling up of arms and legs to a great extent. The skin of the affected area turns thicker and harder, resembling that of an elephant. This disease is mostly found in people who reside in tropical and subtropical areas. So, here’s knowing more about this lymphatic condition.

What is Lymphatic Filariasis:

Elephantiasis is globally considered to be a neglected tropical disease (NTD), more common in Africa and Southeast Asia. This disease is caused due to microscopic, thread-like parasites known as filarial worms. It is spread between humans via infected mosquitoes. When they bite humans, they deposit the parasite which makes its way to the lymph system. The adult worms live in the human body’s lymph system. This disease is responsible for painful disfigurement and abnormal enlargement of body parts. It causes one’s arms, legs and genital organs like the scrotum and breasts to swell up unnaturally.

Symptoms of Lymphatic Filariasis:

Most people who get this disease will not show clear symptoms, in spite of the damage caused to the lymph system and kidneys. Those who do get symptoms commonly experience:

  • Swelling of legs, arms, breasts and genitals.
  • Pain in the swollen areas.
  • Impaired immune system and bacterial infections of the skin.
  • The skin turns dry, thick, darker, ulcerated and pitted.
  • Chills and fever.

Causes of Lymphatic Filariasis:

Elephantiasis is caused due to parasitic worms and spread by mosquitos. The parasitic worms involved are of three types – Wuchereria bancrofti, Brugia malayi, and Brugia timori.
All starts when the mosquitos pick up the filarial larvae when they bite an infected person. They then bite another person and deposit the tiny larvae which get into their blood stream. These grow and mature in the lymphatic system for years. The lymphatic system is the channel for removal of waste and toxins from your body. The parasitic worms grow in your lymph system, blocking it and hindering its functions. This causes your organs to swell up as there is a backup of lymphatic fluid. Risk factors include:

  • People living in tropical and sup-tropical parts like Africa, India, Southeast Asia and South America are at a greater risk.
  • People who are frequently bitten by mosquitos.
  • People who lead an unhygienic lifestyle in unsanitary conditions.

Treatment for Lymphatic Filariasis:

There are different ways of treating or reducing the symptoms of filariasis . These include:

  • Medications: People who have an active infection need to take medicines to kill the worms in their blood. These medicines could stop the illness from spreading to others, but may not be able to kill off the parasites completely. Anti-parasite drugs like diethylcarbamazine (DEC), ivermectin, albendazole and doxycycline are suggested by the doctor. Other symptoms of this disease may be controlled by antihistamines, analgesics and antibiotics.
  • Lifestyle measures: Not everyone with this disease needs to take medicines. They may no longer be carrying the worms in their body. However, the symptoms may still persist. In such cases, gently washing the affected areas with soap and water daily, keeping the skin moisturized, keeping swollen areas elevated, regular exercises and keeping the limbs wrapped to prevent further swelling is advisable.
  • Surgery: In extreme cases of elephantiasis, surgery needs to be done. Reconstructive surgery is carried out to remove the affected lymphatic tissues, thus relieving the pressure and swelling.
  • Psychological support: In certain cases, people may wish to seek emotional and psychological treatment in the form of one-one-one counseling sessions, attending support groups and online resources.

Prevention of Lymphatic Filariasis:

Prevention of this disease may be possible by:

  • Avoiding exposure to mosquitos and taking the necessary precautions to prevent mosquito bites.
  • Making sure to get rid of stagnant water sources and other mosquito breeding areas in your surroundings.
  • Using mosquito nets during sleeping.
  • Keeping the body covered by wearing trousers and long-sleeved clothes.
  • Using insect repellants.
  • Taking the necessary medications like DEC and ivermectin as a preventive measure before travelling to mosquito prone areas.

Conclusion:

So, the takeaway from this article is that Lymphatic Filariasis is a tropical disease that spread via mosquito bites. People experiencing similar symptoms like swelling of limbs and thickening of skin should immediately consult a doctor. With early detection and prompt treatment, these symptoms can be significantly reduced. Though it is quite difficult and disabling to lead a life with elephantiasis – it could lead to stress and depression – it is not impossible to do so. The correct lifestyle changes and psychological support from others can help one manage and live with the symptoms until fully recovered.

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Verified By Dr Amitav Mohanty
MBBS, MD -Medicine, Senior Consultant - General Medicine, Apollo Hospitals Bhubanswar

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