Filariasis: Symptoms, treatment, and prevention

Filariasis: Symptoms, treatment, and prevention

Filariasis, also known as lympathic filariasis (LF), is most common in tropical countries and is caused by parasitic nematode worms that look like tiny threads. The infection caused by these filarial worms, Wuchereria bancrofti, Brugia malayi and Brugia timori, are transmitted by Culex mosquitoes.

Symptoms of Filariasis

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of 2006, there has been an estimated 1.3 billion people in more than 80 countries at risk of contracting LF. At present, there are over 120 million infected individuals, and over 40 million of them have been disfigured and severely debilitated by the disease. Affected people mostly live in India.

LF is considered the highest among the world’s diseases that cause severe disability and disfiguration. It mostly strikes poor portions of the population in areas where there are great numbers of breeding sites for mosquitoes that carry the disease. Lymphatic Filariasis starts from the bite of an infected mosquito, or when a person comes into contact with water where infected mosquitoes breed. Adult worms will live in the lympathic vessels for 4 to 6 years, and the females can produce a large number of larvae (microfilariae) which travel around in the bloodstream. The infection can be spread when a mosquito that has bitten an infected person. The mosquito then becomes a carrier of microfilaria which will develop into an infective parasite and be transmitted once the mosquito bites other people. In the endemic areas where the disease is concentrated, it is estimated that 54% of the population are infected by microfilariae.

These symptoms develop in a very slow manner, sometimes taking years. Those who are infected do not show any outward signs until the disease reaches its late phase. In the latter stage of the disease, affected persons are immediately identified because of their grossly swollen legs, arms, breasts or genitals with cracked, thickened skin that is rough and hard to the touch. LF can also cause damage to the kidneys and the entire lympathic system. People who are affected by lympathic filariasis are subjected to social stigma and are unable to live a normal life.

Prevention of Filariasis

Preventing the occurrence of lympathic filariasis means avoiding the bites of mosquitoes suspected of carrying the disease. The World Health Organization recommends limiting any outdoor activities during nighttime, especially if living in rural areas or jungles; wearing long sleeves and long pants; avoiding dark-colored clothing which is attractive to mosquitoes; not wearing scents like perfume or cologne; treating clothes with an insect repellent to ward off mosquitoes; installing screens and mosquito nets, and using air-conditioning, as cooler air causes mosquitoes to become lethargic. Best is to consult a professional pest control service for eradicating mosquitoes.