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Filariasis: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About filariasis

Filariasis also called ‘elephantiasis’ is a long-standing infection caused by worms namely Wucheria bancrofti, Brugia malayi and Brugia timori. This parasitic disease causes damage to the lymphatic system resulting in swelling of certain body areas. Filariasis is a chronic disease which may cause physical disfigurement in the later stages.

Filariasis: Incidence, age and sex

Filariasis is seen in places where sanitation practices are poor and hygiene is inadequate. It is commonly encountered in certain parts of Asia and Africa. The incidence of filariasis is low in developed countries. Although it may affect any age group, but is more common in childhood and young adulthood. The frequency of filariasis is more in men than women.

Signs and symptoms of filariasis: Diagnosis

The clinical features of filariasis occur several months or years after exposure. The clinical features may vary from person to person. The affected individual may remain asymptomatic for a long time before presenting any clinical symptom. The most prominent feature is swelling of particular areas of body like lower limbs or the male genital system. This is usually accompanied by fever and chills. The skin over affected area becomes hard and thick.

Filariasis can be easily diagnosed by detection of the parasite in blood which should ideally be collected by night. Moreover, a standard blood count may reveal increased number of eosinophils which is a sign of parasitic infection.

Causes and prevention of filariasis

Filariasis is caused by the parasites Wucheria bancrofti, Brugia malayi and Brugia timori. These parasites need two hosts to complete their life cycle. Humans are the definitive hosts wherein the adult worms infect the lymphatic system resulting in its inflammation and henceforth obstruction to the flow of lymph fluid. The adult worm gives rise to the larva also called microfilariae, which generally circulate in blood during night time. These microfilariae are transmitted from humans to humans indirectly through mosquitoes which are the vector hosts for these parasites.

Filariasis is a preventable infection which can be prevented by avoiding mosquito bites by using mosquito nets or repellents, especially in endemic areas.

Filariasis: Complications

The most distressing complication of filariasis is swelling of certain areas of the body resulting in physical disfigurement. This may be a cause of distress and social concern to the affected individual. Moreover, longstanding inflammation of lymphatic system may cause its loss of functioning resulting in increased chances of bacterial infections in the affected individual.

Filariasis: Treatment

The treatment of filariasis includes medications as well as adequate supportive care. Occasionally, surgical management may also be required in patients with severe physical disability. The anti-parasitic medication for filariasis is diethylcarbamazine which needs to be taken for 2-3 weeks to effectively kill the worms. Antibiotic medications may be required in cases of secondary bacterial infection. The individual may benefit from adequate bed rest, elevation of affected limb and elastic stockings which may help in relieving obstruction of lymphatic flow.