Lymphatic Filariasis

Lymphatic Filariasis, or more simply Filariasis, is an infectious tropical disease that is caused by thread-like parasitic filarial worms, called Nematode Worms. Three types of worms cause the disease: Wuchereria bancrofti (shown above), Brugia malayi, and Brugia timori.

These parasitic filarial worms are transmitted to humans by the bite of mosquitoes.

The disease is extremely rare in Western countries. However, in some tropical regions of Asia, Africa, and Central and South America, the disease is endemic. It is believed that about 120 million people are infected world wide. In some areas of Indonesia, up to half of the population have the parasitic filarial worms in their blood.

Symptoms

The most spectacular symptom of Lymphatic Filariasis is Elephantiasis, which involves a thickening of the skin and the underlying tissues when the parasitic filarial worms lodge in the lymphatic system. The areas of the body where the symptoms occur depend on which type of parasitic filarial worms is involved. For example, Wuchereria bancrofti: mainly affect the legs, arms, vulva, breasts.

Lymphatic Filariasis is not known to be fatal, however, it can cause pain and discomfort for the sufferer.

Causes

Lymphatic Filariasis is caused by thread-like parasitic filarial worms, called Nematode Worms. These parasitic filarial worms are transmitted to humans by the bite of mosquitoes. The disease is extremely rare in Western countries.

Treatment

Lymphatic Filariasis can be treated with a range of medications, such as Albendazole and Ivermectin. Treatment is most effective when started as soon as possible after infection. However, early detection is difficult.

The medications involved in treatment do have some toxic side effects. Further research is being conducted into new and improved treatments and also in early detection techniques. Antibiotics, which attack symbiotic bacteria living inside the parasitic filarial worms, are a promising new treatment that is undergoing clinical trials.

Prevention and Control

The following techniques are used to attempt to prevent and control Lymphatic Filariasis:

  • Insect Control: the primary prevention measure is mosquito eradication and control, which involves emptying pools of standing water (such as in the bases of flowerpots), spraying for mosquitoes, and applying larvicides (such as Abate) to standing water. A fresh water crustacean, called Mesocyclops, can also be placed in water tanks and pools, and this organism eats and destroys the mosquito larvae. This solution is cheaper and far more environmentally friendly than pesticides, though not quite as effective. It also requires the ongoing participation of the local community.
  • Personal Protection: includes a range of measures, including covering exposed skin, using mosquito nets and screens on doors and windows, using insect repellents, and avoiding areas where mosquitoes are common.