Lymphatic Filariasis


What Is Lymphatic Filariasis?

Lymphatic filariasis (LF), also known as elephantiasis, is a Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) caused by an infection of filarial parasites which are transmitted to humans through different types of mosquitoes. Lymphatic filariasis is one of the most common vector-borne parasitic diseases, with an estimated 893 million people in 49 countries worldwide at risk of infection. It is endemic throughout the tropics and subtropics of Asia, Africa, the Western Pacific, and parts of the Caribbean and South America.

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What Causes Lymphatic Filariasis?

Lymphatic filariasis is caused by three species of nematode worms, known as filariae: Wuchereria bancrofti, Brugia malayi and Brugia timori. The adult worms often cause inflammation of the lymphatic system resulting in lymphatic vessel damage, primarily in the lower limbs. Though most infections are acquired in childhood, symptoms often begin later in adulthood and are characterised by gross enlargement of an area of the body — especially the limbs (lymphoedema) or swelling of the groin (hydrocoele). Lymphatic filariasis causes severe disability and stigma, and can result in mental illness.

Image credit: The Carter Center/E.Staub - Woman with LF lying on bench
Image credit: The Carter Center/E.Staub

History Of Lymphatic Filariasis

Lymphatic filariasis is an ancient infectious disease that is thought to have existed as early as 1500 B.C. in early Egyptian civilisation. The connection between microfilariae and lymphatic filariasis was made in the late 1860s, and the transmission method via the mosquito vector was determined in 1900.

Image credit: The Carter Center/E.Staub - Woman with LF talking to group of people
Image credit: The Carter Center/E.Staub

Prevention and Treatment Of Lymphatic Filariasis

Lymphatic filariasis can be eliminated by stopping the spread of infection through preventive chemotherapy.

As of September 2017, the World Health Organization approved a new treatment strategy: mass drug administration (MDA) of a combination of ivermectin, DEC, and albendazole, which reduces treatment time from five-to-seven years to one-to-two years. More than 7.7 billion treatments have been delivered to stop the spread of infection since 2000. With the development of treatment and prevention we are on the path to eliminate the spread of lymphatic filariasis dramatically.

Another strategy to reduce transmission of not only lymphatic filariasis,  but also other mosquito-borne infections, is vector control. Interventions such as insecticide-treated nets, indoor residual spraying, or personal protection measures also help protect people from infection.

Elimination Of Lymphatic Filariasis

Since 2012, 17 countries have eliminated lymphatic filariasis.

The global goal set by WHO is to eliminate and eradicate lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem by 2030.

Image credit: The Carter Center/E.Staub - 3 women smiling
Image credit: The Carter Center/E.Staub

Where Lymphatic Filariasis is found

Where Lymphatic Filariasis is found