Filariasis or elephantiasis is swollen limbs caused by filarial worm infections. This worm attacks the lymph vessels and is transmitted through mosquito bites.
In addition to the legs, other body parts, such as genital organs, arms, and chest, can also experience swelling. Before swelling arises, elephantiasis disease does not cause specific symptoms, so treatment is often too late.
Therefore, prevention of elephantiasis is very important. Prevention can be done by avoiding mosquito bites and following the mass prevention drug administration program (POPM) conducted by the government.
Causes and Transmission of Elephant Feet
Elephant foot disease or filariasis is caused by filarial worm infections in lymph vessels. This worm can spread from one person to another through mosquito bites.
Although it attacks the lymph vessels, filaria worms also circulate in the veins of patients with elephantiasis. If the sufferer of an elephant’s leg is bitten by a mosquito, filaria worms can be carried with the blood and enter the mosquito’s body.
Then when this mosquito bites another person, the filaria worm in the mosquito’s body will enter the person’s blood vessels and lymph vessels. The filaria worm will then multiply in the lymph vessels and block the circulation of the lymph, causing elephantiasis.
Some types of filarial worms that cause filariasis or elephantiasis are Wuchereria bancrofti, Brugia malayi, and Brugia Timor. Whereas the type of filaria worm mosquitoes are Culex, Aedes, Anopheles, and Mansonia mosquitoes.
Looking at the way it is transmitted, a person is more at risk of developing elephantiasis if:
- Live in an elephant foot endemic environment.
- Living in an environment where cleaning is poor.
- Often bitten by mosquitoes or live in an environment that has a lot of mosquitoes.
Symptoms of Elephant Feet
As the name implies, the main symptom of elephantiasis is swelling in the legs. In addition to the legs, swelling can also occur in other body parts, such as the arms, genitals, and chest.
The skin on the swollen limbs will thicken, dry, become darker, cracked, and sometimes appear sores. Unfortunately, the limbs that have experienced swelling and skin changes cannot return to normal. In this condition, the elephant’s foot has entered the chronic phase.
At the beginning of the disease, elephantiasis sufferers usually do not experience any symptoms. This causes the sufferer unconsciously to have contracted elephantiasis (filariasis), so it is too late to handle. Inflammation of the vessels or lymph nodes can also appear in the initial phase, in the form of local swelling of the vessels and lymph nodes.
When to see a doctor
If you plan to travel to areas where there are cases of elephantiasis, consult your doctor first. Ask your doctor if there is a way to prevent it. You also need to consult a doctor if there is an elephantiasis in your neighborhood.
See your doctor if swelling of the ducts and lymph nodes develop, especially if you live in a place where there are many cases of elephantiasis or after traveling to areas where there are cases of elephantiasis. Especially if the swollen lymph nodes occur repeatedly.
Diagnosis of Elephant Feet
The doctor will ask the patient about the symptoms that are felt and since when the symptoms appear. After that, the doctor will do a physical examination to check for these symptoms.
If you suspect that the patient has elephantiasis, the doctor will recommend a blood test. Blood samples will be examined to find out if there are filaria worms or not. This examination is carried out under a microscope or through special chemical tests using antigens.
If needed, sufferers can also undergo other investigations to see the effects of elephantiasis. Examinations carried out include scanning tests with ultrasound or X-rays and urine tests.
Treatment of Elephant Feet
Treatment that can be undertaken by patients with filariasis aims to prevent infection from getting worse and avoid the complications of filariasis. To reduce the number of parasites in the body, patients can take worm medicines, such as ivermectin, albendazole, or diethylcarbamazine.
After being given these drugs, the worms that cause elephantiasis will die, so that the swollen lymph nodes subside and the lymph flow returns smoothly.
If the filariasis has caused swelling of the legs and feet, its size cannot return to normal. But there are some things you can do to maintain the cleanliness of a swollen foot, including:
- Rest your legs and always keep the legs higher, when sitting or lying down.
- Use compress stockings, as directed by your doctor.
- Clean the swollen limbs with soap and water every day.
- If you have a wound, immediately clean the wound with an antiseptic.
- Move your limbs through moderate exercise to maintain a smooth flow of lymph in the swollen part.
If the swelling in the legs is very severe, or if there is swelling of the scrotum (hydrocele), the patient can undergo surgery to reduce the swelling. The operation will remove some of the infected glands and lymph vessels.
Feet that have been swollen due to filariasis cannot return to normal. Therefore, steps to prevent filariasis are very important to run, especially for people who are at risk of this disease.
Complications of Elephant Feet
The main complication that can arise from elephantiasis is severe swelling in the infected body part. This swelling can cause pain and cause disability. However, the pain and discomfort that can arise can be alleviated through the steps of treating elephantiasis.
Swollen feet can also have a secondary bacterial infection because elephantiasis skin often suffers wounds.
Prevention of Elephant Feet
The main step to prevent elephantiasis is to avoid mosquito bites. This is very important, especially in elephant foot endemic areas. To maximize protection against mosquito bites, you can take the following simple steps:
- Wearing clothes and trousers
- Apply anti-mosquito lotion
- Sleep in a mosquito net
- Clean the puddles around the house
Spread of elephantiasis can also be stopped by following a government program to eradicate elephantiasis, namely the administration of mass preventive medicine (POPM).