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How Lymphatic Filariasis Is Spread, Symptoms And Progression Of Filarial Disease, Diagnosis, TreatmentPrevention

Elephantiasis is an extreme symptom of human infection by a type of roundworm or nematode. It involves massive swelling of a limb or of the scrotum. The leg of an individual suffering from elephantiasis can become enlarged to two or three times normal diameter.

The actual name of the disease or infection which causes elephantiasis is lymphatic filariasis. Lymphatic filariasis is an important parasitic infection (a parasite is any organism which survives by living within another organism) in Africa, Latin America, the Pacific Islands, and Asia, and causes infection in about 250 million individuals (more than the number suffering from malaria). At one time, there was a small focus of infection that occurred in South Carolina, but this ended in the 1920s.

Prevention of lymphatic filariasis is very difficult, if not impossible, for people living in the areas where the causative nematodes are commonly found. Travelers to such areas can minimize exposure to the mosquito vectors through use of insect repellant and mosquito netting. Work is being done to determine whether DEC has any use as a preventive measure against the establishment of lymphatic filariasis.

See also Roundworms.



Andreoli, Thomas E., et al. Cecil Essentials of Medicine. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders Company, 1993.

Berkow, Robert, and Andrew J. Fletcher. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. Rahway, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories, 1992.

Cormican, M. G. and M. A. Pfaller. "Molecular Pathology of Infectious Diseases." In Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 20th ed. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 2001.

Isselbacher, Kurt J., et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. New York: McGraw Hill, 1994.

Mandell, Douglas, et al. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1995.

Prescott, L., J. Harley, and D. Klein. Microbiology. 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002.

Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt


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—An animal or plant within which a parasite lives.


—Live offspring produced by adult nematodes within the host's body.


—Occurring at night.


—The regularity with which an event occurs.


—Any agent, living or otherwise, that carries and transmits parasites and diseases.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Electrophoresis (cataphoresis) to Ephemeral