Elephantiasis is a disease that is characterized by the thickening of the skin and underlying tissues, especially in the legs and male genitals. In some cases the disease can cause certain body parts, such as the scrotum, to swell to the size of a softball or basketball. "Elephantitis" is a common mis-hearing of the term, from confusing the ending -iasis (process or resulting condition) with the more commonly heard -itis (irritation or inflammation), resulting in "Elephantitis" meaning "inflammation of the elephant". The proper medical term for the disease is elephantiasis, and it is caused by filariasis or podoconiosis.
Someone who is infected with elephantiasis disease usually occurs in childhood, where in a long time (many years) began to be felt development.
The acute symptoms that may occur include:
- Fever over and over for 3-5 days, fever may be lost when the break and came back after working hard.
- Swollen lymph nodes (without any injury), groin area, armpits (lymphadenitis), which looks red, hot and painful
- Inflammation of lymph channels that feels hot and pain radiating from the base of the foot or base of the arm towards the end (retrograde lymphangitis)
- filarial abscess due to often suffer from swollen lymph nodes, it can burst and release pus and blood
- Enlargement of the legs, arms, breasts, testicles that look a little flushed and feels hot (early lymphodema)
While the chronic symptoms of the disease elephantiasis, which formed as a permanent enlargement (elephantiasis) in the legs, arms, breasts, testicles (elephantiasis skroti).
Elephantiasis occurs in the presence of microscopic, thread-like parasitic worms such as Wuchereria bancrofti, Brugia malayi, and B. timori, all of which are transmitted by mosquitoes. However, the disease itself is a result of a complex interplay between several factors: the worm, the symbiotic Wolbachia bacteria within the worm, the host’s immune response, and the numerous opportunistic infections and disorders that arise. Consequently, it is common in tropical regions and Africa. The adult worms only live in the human lymphatic system. Obstruction of the lymphatic vessels leads to swelling in the lower torso, typically in the legs and genitals. It is not definitively known if this swelling is caused by the parasite itself, or by the immune system's response to the parasite.
Alternatively, elephantiasis may occur in the absence of parasitic infection. This nonparasitic form of elephantiasis is known as "nonfilarial elephantiasis" or "podoconiosis", and areas of high prevalence have been documented in Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia. The worst affected area is Ethiopia, where up to 6% of the population is affected in endemic areas. Nonfilarial elephantiasis is thought to be caused by persistent contact with irritant soils: in particular, red clays rich in alkali metals such as sodium and potassium and associated with volcanic activity.
According to medical experts the worldwide efforts to eliminate lymphatic filariasis is on track to potentially be successful by 2020. An estimated 6.6 million children have been prevented from being infected, with another estimated 9.5 million in whom the progress of the disease has been stopped.
For podoconiosis, international awareness of the disease will have to rise before elimination is possible. Podoconiosis does not yet appear on the Neglected Tropical Disease lists, and is not part of the work of organizations such as the World Health Organization.
Treatments for lymphatic filariasis differ depending on the geographic location of the endemic area. In sub-Saharan Africa, albendazole is being used with ivermectin to treat the disease, whereas elsewhere in the world, albendazole is used with diethylcarbamazine. Geo-targeting treatments is part of a larger strategy to eventually eliminate lymphatic filariasis by 2020.
Another form of effective treatment involves rigorous cleaning of the affected areas of the body. Several studies have shown that these daily cleaning routines can be an effective way to limit the symptoms of lymphatic filariasis. The efficacy of these treatments suggests that many of the symptoms of elephantiasis are not directly a result of the lymphatic filariasis but rather the effect of secondary skin infections.
In addition, surgical treatment may be helpful for issues related to scrotal elephantiasis and hydrocele. However, surgery is generally ineffective at correcting elephantiasis of the limbs.
A vaccine is not yet available but is likely to be developed in the near future.
Treatment for podoconiosis consists of consistent shoe-wearing (to avoid contact with the irritant soil) and hygiene - daily soaking in water with an antiseptic (such as bleach) added, washing the feet and legs with soap and water, application of ointment, and in some cases, wearing elastic bandages. Antibiotics are used in cases of infection.
In 2003 it was suggested that the common antibiotic doxycycline might be effective in treating lymphatic filariasis. The parasites responsible for elephantiasis have a population of symbiotic bacteria, Wolbachia, that live inside the worm. When the symbiotic bacteria are killed by the antibiotic, the worms themselves also die.