These worms can live for an average of 6–8 years and, during their life time, produce millions of microfilariae (immature larvae) that circulate in the blood- Falaria

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Lymphatic filariasis, generally referred to as elephantiasis, is a neglected tropical disease which transmits filarial parasites to humans through mosquitoes. Infection is usually acquired in childhood causing hidden damage to the lymphatic system.

The painful and profoundly disfiguring visible manifestations of the disease, lymphoedema, elephantiasis and scrotal swelling occur later in life and lead to permanent disability. These patients are not only physically disabled, but suffer mental, social and financial losses contributing to stigma and poverty.

Globally, an estimated 25 million men suffer with genital disease and over 15 million people are afflicted with lymphoedema. Eliminating lymphatic filariasis can prevent unnecessary suffering and contribute to the reduction of poverty. 

The worms can live for an average of 6–8 years and, during their life time, produce millions of microfilariae (immature larvae) that circulate in the blood.

Cause

Caused mainly by infection with parasites classified as nematodes (roundworms). There are 3 types of these thread-like filarial worms:

Wuchereria bancrofti

Brugia malayi

Brugia timori

Means of transmission 

Mosquitoes are infected with microfilariae by ingesting blood when biting an infected host. Microfilariae mature into infective larvae within the mosquito. When infected mosquitoes bite people, mature parasite larvae are deposited on the skin from where they can enter the body. The larvae then migrate to the lymphatic vessels where they develop into adult worms, thus continuing a cycle of transmission.

Lymphatic filariasis is transmitted by different types of mosquitoes for example by the Culex mosquito, widespread across urban and semi-urban areas, Anopheles, mainly found in rural areas, and Aedes, mainly in endemic islands in the Pacific.

Symptoms

The infection involves asymptomatic, acute, and chronic conditions showing no external signs of infection. These asymptomatic infections still cause damage to the lymphatic system and the kidneys, and alter the body’s immune system.Some people feel noticeable movement of worms in their legs.

Complications

Acute episodes of local inflammation involving skin, lymph nodes and lymphatic vessels often accompany chronic lymphoedema or elephantiasis. Some of these episodes are caused by the body’s immune response to the parasite. Most are the result of bacterial skin infection, however, where normal defenses have been partially lost due to underlying lymphatic damage.

When lymphatic filariasis develops into chronic conditions it leads to lymphoedema (tissue swelling) or elephantiasis (skin/tissue thickening) of limbs and hydrocele (scrotal swelling). Involvement of breasts and genital organs is common. Such body deformities lead to social stigma, as well as financial hardship from loss of income and increased medical expenses. The socioeconomic burdens of isolation and poverty are immense.

Treatment

Elimination of lymphatic filariasis is possible by stopping the spread of the infection. Large-scale treatment involves a single dose of 2 medicines given annually to an entire at-risk population in the following way: albendazole (400 mg) together with either ivermectin (150-200 mcg/kg) or with diethylcarbamazine citrate (DEC) (6 mg/kg).

These medicines have a limited effect on adult parasites but effectively reduce the density of microfilariae in the bloodstream and prevent the spread of parasites to mosquitoes. This recommended large-scale treatment strategy is called preventive chemotherapy when conducted annually for 4–6 years, and it can interrupt the transmission cycle.

Morbidity management

Morbidity management and disability prevention are vital for improving public health and should be fully integrated into the health system to ensure sustainability. Surgery can alleviate most cases of hydrocele. Clinical severity and progression of the disease, including acute inflammatory episodes, can be reduced and prevented with simple measures of hygiene, skin care, exercise, and elevation of affected limbs. People with lymphoedema must have access to continuing care throughout their lives, both to manage the disease and to prevent progression to more advanced stages.

Vector control

Mosquito control is a supplemental strategy supported by WHO. It is used to reduce transmission of lymphatic filariasis and other mosquito-borne infections. Depending on the parasite-vector species, measures such as insecticide-treated nets, indoor residual spraying or personal protection measures may help protect people from infection. Vector control has in select settings contributed to the elimination of lymphatic filariasis in the absence of large-scale preventive chemotherapy.

 



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