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Keeping elephantiasis at bay

John Abu, not real name, has swelling in his lower limb and was taken to the hospital. He was diagnosed with elephantiasis.  According to Dr…

John Abu, not real name, has swelling in his lower limb and was taken to the hospital. He was diagnosed with elephantiasis.

 According to Dr Benson Okwara, elephantiasis is a parasitic infection caused by nematodes (roundworms) which affect the lymphatic vessels of the body particularly the lower limbs and the inguinal and scrotal region.

 He said: “This parasite infestation leads to obstruction to the flow of lymphatic fluid causing swelling of the limbs sometimes to the size and shape of the limbs of elephants hence the name elephantiasis.”

Dr Okwara, a Consultant Dermatologist at the   University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH), explained that due to poor sanitation, the microfilaria is taken up when certain species of mosquitoes bite people. 

 “These microfilaria develop into infective larva and when mosquitoes carrying these larva bite uninfected persons, they are capable of depositing these larvae in these persons leading to new infections.”

 “Therefore, the risk factors are poor environmental sanitation which encourages the breeding of these mosquitoes,” he said.

 Dr Okwar said infected persons usually believed that they were poisoned either from ingestion of food or stepping on poisoned materials on the floor, adding, “But the swelling of the limbs is as a result of late presentation of the infection for treatment.”

The dermatologist said elephantiasis’s diagnosis is made by taking a superficial biopsy of the skin (skin snip) of certain parts of the body which can be examined under the microscope for the microfilaria.

He said some medications which are effective against the adult worms or the microfilaria can be used in the treatment of the condition.

 “Some of these medications are also useful for lymphatic filariasis control programme.”

He explained that the infection can be controlled through the use of insecticides, insecticide treated nets and environmental sanitation to ward off the vectors (mosquitoes).

He advised people to pay more attention to the disease in order to prevent themselves from getting infected.


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