What is lymphatic filariasis
Lymphatic filariasis, commonly known as elephantiasis, is a painful and profoundly disfiguring disease. In communities where filariasis is transmitted, all ages are affected. While the infection may be acquired during childhood its visible manifestations may occur later in life, causing temporary or permanent disability. In endemic countries, lymphatic filariasis has a major social and economic impact with an estimated annual loss of $1 billion and impairing economic activity up to 88% (Katabarwa M et al. 2008).
The disease is caused by three species of thread-like nematode worms, known as filariae – Wuchereria bancrofti, Brugia malayi and Brugia timori. Male worms are about 3–4 centimetres in length, and female worms 8–10 centimetres. The male and female worms together form “nests” in the human lymphatic system, the network of nodes and vessels that maintain the delicate fluid balance between blood and body tissues. The lymphatic system is an essential component of the body’s immune system.
Filarial infection can cause a variety of clinical manifestations, including lymphoedema of the limbs, genital disease (hydrocele, chylocele, and swelling of the scrotum and penis) and recurrent acute attacks, which are extremely painful and are accompanied by fever. The vast majority of infected people are asymptomatic, but virtually all of them have subclinical lymphatic damage and as many as 40% have kidney damage, with proteinuria and haematuria.