Elephantiasis is a tropical disease caused by parasitic worms that are spread through mosquito bites. The skin gets thick and hard, resembling an elephant’s skin.
Although medically known as lymphatic filariasis, the term elephantiasis is commonly used because symptoms include swelling and enlargement of the scrotum, breast, arms and legs. It’s more common in tropical and subtropical areas of the world, including Africa and Southeast Asia.
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 swelling and enlargement of body parts can lead to pain and mobility issues.
The skin is also affected and may be:
• darker than normal
People with elephantiasis will have impaired immune function because of damage to their lymph system. They tend to get more bacterial infections of the skin, causing it to become dry, thick, and ulcerated with repeated infections.
Some people experience additional symptoms, such as fever and chills.
The following 3 types of parasitic roundworms cause elephantiasis:
• Wuchereria bancrofti
• Brugia malayi
• Brugia timori
Wuchereria bancrofti worms cause 90 percent of all cases of elephantiasis. Brugia malayi causes most of the others.
Mosquitoes are responsible for spreading the parasites that cause elephantiasis.
• Firstly, mosquitoes become infected with roundworm larvae when they take a blood meal from an infected human.
• The mosquitoes then bite someone else, passing the larvae into their bloodstream.
• Finally, the worm larvae migrate to the lymphatics via the bloodstream and mature in the lymph system.
Risk Factors –
Elephantiasis can affect people at any age. It appears in both women and men. It’s more common in tropical and subtropical parts of the world, such as:
• Southeast Asia
• South America
Common risk factors for elephantiasis include:
• living for a long time in tropical and subtropical areas
• having a high exposure to mosquitoes
• living in unsanitary conditions
Elephantiasis is associated with several physical and emotional complications, including:
Elephantiasis is a leading cause of permanent disability across the globe. It may be difficult to move the affected body parts, which makes working or engaging in household tasks more difficult.
• Secondary infections
Fungal and bacterial infections are prevalent among those with elephantiasis because of damage to the lymph system.
• Emotional distress
The condition can cause people to worry about their appearance, which could lead to anxiety and depression.
Your doctor can find out if you have elephantiasis by giving you a physical exam. They will ask about your medical history, and whether you’ve traveled to a place where you were more likely to have gotten elephantiasis.
There are two primary ways lymphatic filariasis is typically diagnosed: •Blood smears
The worms can’t be seen by the naked eye, but you can catch a glimpse of them under a microscope. This diagnostic method uses a small amount of blood (taken by a finger prick, for example) smeared onto a slide, which is then looked at through a microscope. The worms are only active at night, so the sample should be taken then. This is the cheapest and more practical way to test for the parasite.
Alternatively, serologic testing can also be used for diagnosis. When you’re infected with a parasite, the human body often makes antibodies to try to fight it off. These antibodies can be detected using routine assays done on blood samples. This method, however, tends to be used primarily by public health officials attempting to monitor and map the transmission of the parasite in a given region.
Because many people don’t present symptoms until years after they’re infected, tests might come back negative even if their condition is the result of the parasite.
People with an active infection can take medications to kill the worms in the blood. These medications stop the spread of the illness to others, but they do not completely kill off all the parasites.
Antiparasitic drugs that may be prescribed include:
• diethylcarbamazine (DEC)
• ivermectin (Mectizan)
• albendazole (Albenza)
Other symptoms may be managed with:
Not everyone with elephantiasis will need medication. This is because they may no longer carry the worms in their system despite the presence of symptoms.
People can manage the swelling and skin infections in these cases by:
• gently washing the swollen and damaged skin every day with soap and water
• moisturizing the skin
• elevating swollen limbs to improve the flow of fluid and lymph
• disinfecting wounds to prevent secondary infections
• exercising regularly to support the lymphatic system, as directed by a doctor
• wrapping the limbs to prevent further swelling, as instructed by a doctor
Surgery may be recommended in rare cases to remove damaged lymphatic tissue or relieve pressure in certain areas, such as the scrotum.
Prevention may be possible by:
• avoiding mosquitoes or taking precautions to reduce your risk for mosquito bites
• getting rid of mosquito breeding areas
• using mosquito nets
• wearing insect repellents
• wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants in areas with a lot of mosquitoes
• taking diethylcarbamazine (DEC), albendazole, and ivermectin as a preventive treatment before traveling to areas prone to infection
If you’re traveling to tropical or subtropical regions short term, your risk of getting elephantiasis is low. Living in these areas long term can increase your risk.
Ayurvedic Perspective –
Ayurveda explains a disease by name Shlipada, which is correlated with Elephantiasis. There are three energies – vata, pitta and kapha in the body which are responsible to maintain a good health. Vitiation of any three energies results in health complications. Aggravation of three doshas, primarly kapha dosha occurs in elephantiasis which results in blockage of lasika (lymphatic system). Due to the blockage, swelling of legs and various other body parts occur which is characterized by fever, muscle ache and excess sweating etc.
• Shakhotaka – Streblus asper
• Haridra – Turmeric – Curcuma longa
• Pippali – Long pepper – Piper longum
• Chriabilva – Holoptelea integrifolia
• Karanja – Pongamia pinnata
• Bakuchi – Psoralia corylifolia
• Shigru – Moringa – Moringa oleifera
• Moolaka – Radish – Raphanus sativus
• Vidanga – Embelia ribes
• Daruharidra – Tree turmeric – Berberis aristata
▪︎ Ayurvedic Formulations
• Arogyavardhini Vati
• Nityananda rasa
• Kaishore guggulu
• Triphala guggulu
• Medohara guggulu
• Chirabilvadi kashaya
• Bhoonimbadi kadha
• Pippalyadi choorna
• Shlipada gajakesari rasa
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