Elephantiasis disease, also known clinically as lymphatic Filariasis, is a vector-borne illness which causes profuse swelling of the legs of an afflicted individual. It is a rare ailment, and is mostly observed in parts of Africa, Asia and in the Middle-East.
Elephantiasis is caused by mosquito bites. Three specific mosquito species are largely responsible for its spread: Culex, Aedes, and Anopheles.
Of these, Anopheles mosquitoes also spread malaria.
This disease has been classified as a “Neglected Tropical Disease” by the World Health Organisation. This means that there are still millions of people who are falling prey to Filariasis; still, scientists are no longer looking for a vaccine.
Elephantiasis causes pain and suffering to those afflicted, not to mention ridicule and social neglect. Often, the afflicted have to stay confined to a room all their lives.
What causes Elephantiasis?
Once any of the pests mentioned above bites a human being, ringworm-like parasites enter the bloodstream. These parasites belong to the family Filariodidea.
Three types of parasites cause this ailment. They are:
Wuchereria bancrofti –
Responsible for the largest number of infections. Around 90% of all cases worldwide are caused by Wuchereria.
Brugia timori –
Was previously thought to cause a different type of Filariasis- Timorian disease. Now, it is thought to cause more than 5% of all cases globally.
Brugia malayi –
Known for causing Elephantiasis disease in countries which are neither tropical nor sub-tropical.
DIY task: Identify all the regions globally on a map where this ailment is rampant. Try and estimate whether there is a relationship between the spread of Elephantiasis and these regions’ socio-economic conditions.
You will be surprised to know the results!
Initial symptoms are vague including high-fever, rashes and chills. At first, most of those afflicted believe they have caught the Flu. Gradually, the lower torso- legs, sex organs, abdomen- start to swell out of control. This swelling is so severe that most physicians have a tough time controlling it.
The skin around these swollen parts starts to itch and pain, besides becoming rough. Lumpy outgrowth on the skin on these parts is also common.
Since the Filariodidea parasites affect the lymphatic system first, there may also be gradual swelling of lymph nodes of an affected individual’s body. On occasions, secondary bacterial infections have been noted on these regions of our bodies.
Elephantiasis is determined when blood samples are tested under high-powered microscopes. The last stage- chronic lymphoedema- is usually when the disease starts to develop rapidly.
Since there is no vaccine to prevent Elephantiasis disease, a combination of various drugs has to be taken. Patients are usually given albendazole, a potent anti-parasite medication. This drug is also used to treat pinworm illness. Sub-Saharan Africa, one of the most affected areas in the world, has seen good effects thanks to albendazole use.
To complement this medication, Diethylcarbamazine or DEC is also used. In some severe cases, ivermectin may also have many advantages.
All of these medications are administered orally.
For advanced students: There is currently a vaccine in development in the United States. It has shown great results in mice. Find out more information on the official website of College of Medicine, Illinois University.
Also, you can research on how Doxycycline, an antibiotic, is helping fight this ailment.
Till such time as a vaccine emerges, vulnerable populations have to be aware of the vectors which carry these parasites. Experts recommend a three-pronged approach to prevent Elephantiasis disease:
Using a mosquito net every time when going to sleep.
Mass delousing and mass deworming yield positive results in locations where Elephantiasis is rampant.
Sustained efforts to reduce mosquito population.
Public health specialists also advise government and private enterprises to join hands and raise awareness about Elephantiasis disease.
Major drug manufacturers are racing to work on a single medication which will work effectively. It will eliminate the 3-drug IDA (ivermectin, DEC and albendazole) regime.
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1. Which mosquitos cause Elephantiasis?
Culex, Anopheles and Aedes species are known to carry the parasite that causes this disease.
2. What type of ringworms cause Elephantiasis?
Wuchereria bancrofti, Brugia timori and Brugia malayi causes Elephantiasis in human body.
3. What are the chances of fatality from Elephantiasis?
It is generally not fatal. However, it will cause deformity and will damage the lymphatic system.