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Lymphatic Filariasis

What is Lymphatic Filariasis?

Lymphatic filariasis is a parasitic disease caused by microscopic, thread-like worms. The adult worms only live in the human lymph system. The lymph system maintains the body's fluid balance and fights infections.

Lymphatic Filariasis is usually not life threatening. However, it can permanently damage the lymph system and kidneys. Chronic swelling will also occur in the arms, breasts, and legs.

What Causes Lymphatic Filariasis?

Lymphatic Filariasis is caused by an infection of one of three types of parasitic worms: Wuchereria bancrofti, Brugia malayi, and Brugia timori.

How is Lymphatic Filariasis Spread?

Lymphatic filariasis is spread from person to person by mosquito bites. When a mosquito bites a person who has lymphatic filariasis, microscopic worms circulating in the person's blood enter and infect the mosquito. People get lymphatic filariasis from the bite of an infected mosquito. The microscopic worms pass from the mosquito through the skin, and travel to the lymph vessels. In the lymph vessels they grow into adults.

An adult worm lives for about 5-7 years. The adult worms mate and release millions of microscopic worms into the blood. People with the worms in their blood can give the infection to others through mosquitoes.

What are the Symptoms of lymphatic filariasis?

Symptoms of lymphatic filariasis usually don't appear until after the adult worms die.

Complications of Lymphatic Filariasis

Common complications of lymphatic filariasis are:

  • bacterial infections in the skin and lymph system
  • hardening and thickening of the skin
  • disfigurement
  • sexual disability

Can Lymphatic Filariasis be Prevented?

The risk of developing lymphatic filariasis can be reduced by:

  • administration of medicine that kills microscopic worms that cause lymphatic filariasis
  • control mosquito population

If you live in an area where lymphatic filariasis is common, apply mosquito repellent to your skin and sleep under a mosquito net.

Can Lymphatic Filariasis be Treated?

Yes. People infected with adult worms can take a yearly dose of medicine that kills the microscopic worms circulating in the blood. The medicine will not kill the adult worms but it does prevent infected people from transmitting the disease to someone else. The adult worms must die on their own.

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