LYMPHATIC filariasis, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is an infection transmitted to humans by mosquitoes that threatens 856 million people in 52 countries worldwide at present.
Commonly known as elephantiasis, this neglected tropical disease caused by infection with parasites classified as nematodes (roundworms) of the family Filariodidea impairs the lymphatic system and can lead to the abnormal enlargement of body parts, causing pain, severe disability and social stigma.
“The painful and profoundly disfiguring visible manifestations of the disease, lymphoedema, elephantiasis and scrotal swelling occur later in life and can lead to permanent disability. These patients are not only physically disabled, but suffer mental, social and financial losses contributing to stigma and poverty,” the WHO stated.
There are three different filarial species that can cause lymphatic filariasis in humans. Most of the infections worldwide are caused by Wuchereria bancrofti, although in Asia, the disease can also be caused by Brugia malayi and Brugia timori, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.
“Although the parasite damages the lymph system, most infected people have no symptoms and will never develop clinical symptoms. These people do not know they have lymphatic filariasis unless tested,” CDC added.
On the other hand, the Department of Health shares that the following are some of the signs and symptoms of lymphatic filariasis: pain and swelling of the breast, vagina, scrotum, legs and arms; fever; cough; chills; and wheezing.
According to WHO, the elimination of lymphatic filariasis is possible by stopping the spread of infection through a large-scale treatment, called mass drug administration, delivered in annual doses to all at-risk individuals in endemic areas.
“The medicines have a limited effect on adult parasites but effectively reduce the density of microfilariae in the bloodstream and thus prevent the spread of parasites to mosquitoes,” it said.
In 2000, the WHO launched the Global Programme to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis (GPELF) which has the goal of eliminating the disease as a public health problem by 2020.
The GPELF aims to interrupt transmission of infection through mass drug administration in affected areas and to alleviate suffering through the provision of a basic package of recommended care, referred to as morbidity management and disability prevention.
The WHO also mentioned other treatments for filariasis, which includes: anti-filarial drugs (Diethylcarbamazine Citrate or DEC) and surgery when necessary. Although, it was reported that fever has been a side effect of this medication.
More than 6.7 billion treatments have been delivered to stop the spread of infection since 2000.
The CDC said that the best way to prevent lymphatic filariasis is to avoid mosquito bites. The mosquitoes that carry the microscopic worms usually bite between the hours of dusk and dawn.
At night, it is advisable to sleep in an air-conditioned room or to sleep under a mosquito net. Between dusk and dawn, people living in an area with lymphatic filariasis should wear long sleeves and trousers and use mosquito repellent on exposed skin.
In October 5, 2004, the Executive Order No. 369 was signed by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to establish the national program for eliminating lymphatic filariasis.
It is also declared through EO 369 the month of November as mass treatment for filariasis among affected communities.
As a mass-based program, the susceptible population is given DEC as the dosage of 6 mg per kg of body weight taken as a single dose.
The Department of Health, pursuant to EO 369 of 2004, has observed Filariasis Awareness Month every November.