The most common complications of elephantiasis is disability caused by extreme swelling and enlargement of body parts.
Dr Ojum Ekeoma Ogwo
I was to discuss ebola for the umpteenth time this week, which has resurfaced in DR Congo. The devastation this time around was so encompassing, that the World Health Organisation(WHO) was considering a declaration an “International Health Disease” (IDD) on ebola.
Which means, that the whole world would be put on notice, that the Congo ebola has exceeded an epidemic, but is now gradually gravitating towards a pandemic – which simply means world wide.
I changed my mind when last week, a townsman(name withheld), came calling. He visited me in Gregory Specialist Hospital Uturu. His left leg, from knee down was swollen like that of an elephant. I was flabbergasted. He told me that the swelling started sometime in January this year.
My health alarm was triggered off, because he was the third person from Umuahia with a swollen leg to consult me in two months.
“Wait a minute?” I reflected. “Is there an epidemic?” is filariasis which is colloquially called elephantiasis (because of the size of the swollen legs), becoming an epidemic?
William Morrison, a Specialist in Disease Control, who has done a lot of medical researches on filariasis in Nigeria, shares his thoughts with us.
What is Elephantiasis?
• Elephantiasis is also known lymphatic filariasis.
• It is caused by parasitic worms, and can spread from person to person through mosquitoes.
• Elephantiasis causes the swelling of the scrotum, legs and breasts.
What are the symptoms of elephantiasis?
The most common symptom of elephantiasis is swelling of body parts. The swelling tends to happen in the:
The legs are the most commonly affected area. The swellings and enlargement of the body parts, can lead to pain and mobility issues.
The skin is also affected and may be:
• Darker than normal skin
• Pitted skin
Some people experience additional symptoms such as fever and chills.
Elephantiasis affects the immune system. People with this condition are also at increased risk for a secondary infection.
What causes elephantiasis?
Elephantiasis is caused by parasitic worms that are spread by mosquitoes. There are 3 types of worms involved.
1. Wucheria bancrofti
2. Brugia malayi
3. Brugia timori
The worms affect the lymphatic system in the body. The lymphatic system is responsible for removing waste and toxins
If it becomes blocked, then it doesn’t properly remove waste. These leads to a back up of lymphatic fluid – which causes swelling.
Risk factors for elephantiasis
• Elephantiasis can affect people of any age. It appears in both women and men.
• It is more common in Africa, that is tropical and subtropical parts of the world, that is Africa, India and South America.
Common risk factors for elephantiasis
• People who live around the endemic area
• Having a high exposure to mosquitoes
• Living in an unsanitary conditions
How do we diagnose elephantiasis?
1) Your doctor will ask about your medical history history and symptoms.
2) He will do a thorough physical physical examination
3) You may also need blood tests to help your doctor make a diagnosis.
4) Your blood is examined in the laboratory for presence of parasites.
5) You may have X-rays and ultrasound to rule out the possibility of other problems causing some symptoms.
How is elephantiasis treated?
Treatment for elephantiasis includes:
• Using good hygiene to clean the affected areas.
• Exercising based on a doctor’s direction.
• Surgery in extreme cases, which may include reconstructive surgery for the affected lymphatic tissue.
• Treatment may also include emotional and psychological support..
What are the complications of elephantiasis?
• The most common complications of elephantiasis is disability caused by extreme swelling and enlargement of body parts.
• The pain and swelling can make it difficult to complete daily tasks at work.
• In addition secondary infections are common concern with elephantiasis.
How do we prevent elephantiasis?
Elephantiasis is a disease spread by mosquitoes. Prevention may be possible by
1) Avoid mosquitoes or take precautions to reduce your risk for mosquito bites.
2) Get rid of mosquito breeding areas.
3) Use mosquito nets
4) Wear insect repellents.
5) Wear long sleeved shirts and trousers in areas with a lot of mosquitoes.
6) Take diethylcarbamazine (DEC), albendazole, and ivermectin as preventive treatment
Please be medically guided.
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