Definition of Elephantiasis
Elephantiasis: Lymphatic filariasis, a mosquito-borne parasitic disease caused by tiny thread-like worms that live in the human lymph system. Best known from dramatic photos of people with grossly enlarged or swollen arms and legs.
The parasitic worms responsible for the disease include Wuchereria bancrofti, Brugia malayi, and B. timori. The disease currently affects 120 million people worldwide, and 40 million of these people have serious disease.
When an infected female mosquito bites a person, she may inject the worm larvae, called microfilariae, into the blood. The microfilariae reproduce and spread throughout the bloodstream, where they can live for many years. Often disease symptoms do not appear until years after infection. As the parasites accumulate in the blood vessels, they can restrict the circulation and cause fluid to build up in surrounding tissues. The most common, visible signs of infection are excessively enlarged arms, legs, genitalia, and breasts.
Medicines to treat lymphatic filariasis are most effective when used soon after infection. The disease is difficult to detect early. Improved treatment and laboratory tests are needed. A vaccine is not yet available.
Also see Lymphatic filariasis.
Last Editorial Review: 10/9/2012
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