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Elephantiasis A Serious Parasitic Infection Know the Causes And Symptoms

By AK, 19 March

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Elephantiasis is a severe medical condition, which is caused by the repeated bites of infected mosquitoes (containing larvae of parasitic worms). Also known as lymphatic filariasis, the condition leads to the swelling of different body parts, such as the legs, scrotum or breasts. The treatment consists of antiparasitic medication and self-care measures.

1Overview of elephantiasis

The condition falls into the category of neglected tropical diseases, affecting approximately 120 million people worldwide. It is often encountered in tropical and subtropical regions, such as India, South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.

Elephantiasis has been given this name due to changes in one’s skin, which resembles one of the elephants. Statistics show that lymphatic filariasis can affect people of any age, with equal percentages of men and women being diagnosed.

Overview of elephantiasis

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2What are the symptoms one can develop?

The swelling of the leg(s) is probably the most common manifestation of elephantiasis. The inflammation can affect other body parts, such as the arms, breasts or genitals. Due to the severe swelling, one might also experience pain and a restriction of mobility.

People diagnosed with elephantiasis have dry and thick skin, with ulcerations and color changes (darker than it is normally). The skin might also appear to be pitted. In addition, one might have a fever and chills, suffering from a state of general malaise. As the condition affects the immune system, one is at risk of developing secondary infections.

What are the symptoms elephantiasis

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3What is the cause behind elephantiasis?

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As it was already mentioned at the beginning, the condition is caused by parasitic worms, spread through mosquito bites. These are roundworms, including the following: Brugia timori, Brugia malayi and Wuchereria bancrofti.

What happens is that one gets bitten by the mosquito infected with the roundworm larvae. The larvae will reach the bloodstream, growing gradually and reaching maturity in the lymphatic system. It takes years for the worm to cause damage and lead to severe swelling.

The worm will affect the functioning of the lymphatic system, which is mainly responsible for the removal of both waste and toxins. When the system is blocked, waste is not properly removed and the accumulation of lymph is the one leading to the previously-mentioned manifestations. It is important to understand that this condition is encountered in those who have been repeatedly bitten by infected mosquitoes (long-term effect).

People who live in tropical and subtropical regions are at risk of developing this condition. The risk is even higher in the situation one is constantly exposed to mosquitoes and especially if one lives in unsanitary conditions.

What is the cause behind elephantiasis

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4How is elephantiasis diagnosed?

Upon making the diagnosis, the doctor will explore the patient’s medical history and inquire about recent travels. The healthcare professional will perform a physical exam and draw a blood sample to test for parasites. The blood sample is usually taken at night, as this is when the roundworms are active.

Additional investigations, such as ultrasounds or X-rays, might be requested, in order to rule out other medical problems. However, as a general rule, the diagnosis is confirmed by the blood test.

How is elephantiasis diagnosed

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5Management & treatment

The standard treatment consists of antiparasitic drugs, which are administered once a year. Recommended medication includes ivermectin, diethylcarbamazine (sometimes added to table salt), albendazole and mectizan. The first two are often administered together, for better results. Other medication includes pain relievers, antihistamines for inflammation and antibiotics in case of secondary infections.

Wound care and medicated cream are advised for topical lesions. Surgery – for reconstruction, to remove affected tissue or for pressure relief – represents an alternative in severe cases. Emotional and psychological support is necessary, as the patient might develop anxiety and depression due to his/her disability.

Good hygiene is required to prevent secondary infections. One should keep the affected areas clean and elevated. Physical therapy can help with pain relief and improve mobility.

Management & treatment

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6Prevention

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The condition can be prevented by avoiding areas where mosquitoes are present in large populations. If one must travel to potentially-dangerous areas, it is for the best to take antiparasitic medication (prophylactic use). Mosquito nets, especially over the bed, and screens for the doors, can reduce the risk of bites. Upon going out, it is recommended that one should wear long pants and sleeves with long shirts. There is no known vaccine for this condition.

7Using CareClinic’s health app as a treatment tracker

If you have been diagnosed with elephantiasis, you can rely on CareClinic’s health app and use it as a treatment tracker. You can enter your symptoms in the application and set reminders for your treatment, as well as a doctor, appoints and different precautions. Thanks to this application, you can keep your condition under control and analyze your progress.

Apart from using CareClinic to keep track of your symptoms and treatment, you can also make journal entries about your emotional manifestations. All of the data entered will be used to compile comprehensive health reports, which can be further shared with your treating physician.

Care clinic health app

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