Elephantiasis and its 8 Symptoms: Rare Disease

Elephantiasis and its 8 Symptoms: Rare Disease

Genius is an exaggeration of dimension. So is elephantiasis. Both may be only a disease.

Ayn Rand

Lymphatic filariasis is a human disease caused by parasitic worms known as filarial worms. Most cases of the disease have no symptoms. Some people, however, develop a syndrome called elephantiasis, which is marked by severe swelling in the arms, legs, breasts, or genitals. The skin may become thicker, and the condition may become painful. The changes to the body can harm the person’s social and economic situation.

Elephantiasis is a condition characterized by gross enlargement of an area of the body, especially the limbs. Other areas commonly affected include the external genitals. Elephantiasis is caused by obstruction of the lymphatic system, which results in the accumulation of a fluid called lymph in the affected areas.

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Elephantiasis: A Rare Disease


Lymphatic filariasis, commonly known as elephantiasis, is a painful and profoundly disfiguring disease. It is caused by infection with parasites classified as nematodes (roundworms) of the family Filariodidea that are transmitted through the bites of infected mosquitos. Mosquito-transmitted larvae are deposited on the skin from where they can enter the body. The larvae then migrate to the lymphatic vessels where they develop into adult worms, thus continuing a transmission cycle.

In communities where filariasis is transmitted, all ages are affected. While the infection may be acquired during childhood its visible manifestations such as limb edema may occur later in life, causing temporary or permanent disability. In endemic countries, lymphatic filariasis has a significant social and economic impact.


Lymphatic filariasis affects over 120 million people in 72 countries throughout the tropics and sub-tropics of Asia, Africa, the Western Pacific, and parts of the Caribbean and South America.


  1. Elephantiasis affects the immune system. People with this condition are also at increased risk for a secondary infection.
  2. The most common symptom of elephantiasis is swelling of body parts. The swelling tends to happen in the: legs, genitals, breasts, and arms.
  3. The skin is also affected and may be: dry, thick, ulcerated, darker than normal, and pitted.
  4. Some people experience fever.
  5. Lymphatic filariasis can cause a variety of clinical manifestations, that can be grouped into three categories: acute attacks, lymphoedema/elephantiasis, and hydrocoele.
  6. The adult filarial worms cause inflammation of the lymphatic system leading to lymphatic vessel damage, even in asymptomatic people, and lymphatic dysfunction, which predisposes the lower limbs to recurrent bacterial infection.
  7. These secondary infections provoke “acute attacks”, which are the commonest symptom of lymphatic filariasis and play an important role in the progression of lymphoedema.
  8. Elephantiasis may prevent people from carrying out their normal daily activities in its most advanced form.

Lymphoedema and its more advanced form, elephantiasis, occur primarily in the lower limbs and are commoner in women. Lymphatic filariasis may also evolve into a genital disease (hydrocoele).

The life cycle of Wuchereria bancrofti, a parasite that causes lymphatic filariasis

The vast majority of infected people are asymptomatic, but virtually all of them suffer from damages to the lymphatic system and the kidneys, and from an altered body’s immune system

Can Elephantiasis be Cured?

Lymphatic filariasis, also called elephantiasis tropica, is one of the world’s leading causes of permanent and long-term disability. The disease can’t be cured, although recent studies show tetracycline-based antibiotics could be helpful, particularly in the early stages.

Currently, there is no vaccine available to prevent this infection in humans.

How is elephantiasis diagnosed?

The standard method for diagnosing active infection is by finding the microfilariae via microscopic examination. This may be difficult, as, in most parts of the world, microfilariae only circulate in the blood at night. For this reason, the blood has to be collected nocturnally. The blood sample is typically in the form of a thick smear and stained with Giemsa stain. Testing the blood serum for antibodies against the disease may also be used.


Elephantiasis is most often caused by filariasis, a tropical disease. Non-filarial elephantiasis can be the result of a chronic erysipelas infection which can lead to sepsis, multiple organ failure, and death if not treated in time. This disease is very rare so government should organize an awareness campaign to aware people.


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