Lymphatic Filariasis: The Disease

What is lymphatic filariasis?

Lymphatic filariasis (also known as elephantiasis) is an extremely debilitating, stigmatizing disease, caused by parasitic worms. It affects men, woman and children. BUT… It is a very special disease – one of only six infectious diseases now considered by the World Health Organization to be eradicable with current available tools.

How is it spread?

The 4-12 cm long thread-like adult worms live in the body’s lymph nodes and lymph vessels, and female worms release millions of immature forms, known as microfilariae, into the bloodstream. These can be picked up by mosquito and transmitted to other people when the mosquito bites again.

How do people suffer?

The disease causes a wide range of clinical problems. Some are easy to recognize. Yet many remain hidden from sight.

Easily recognized:

  • Elephantiasis and lymphoedema – the grotesque swelling that can accompany long-standing infection.
  • ‘Filarial fevers’ caused by acute infections in damaged limbs or genitals.

Hidden:

  • Visible, but covered up – genital damage (especially hydrocoele and elephantiasis of the scrotum and penis in men, and elephantiasis of the breast and vulva in women)
  • Damage to the lymph circulation system and to the kidneys in all infected people – even those showing no outward signs of infection.