Published On: Thu, Jun 17th, 2010

An attempt to eradicate elephantiasis in Sierra Leone


A five day campaign kicked off last week funded by USAID in an attempt to eradicate elephantiasis in the African nation of Sierra Leone.

The eradication campaign consisted of over 1000 volunteers searching the country looking for those afflicted with the parasitic disease which is characterized by massive swelling of the scrotum and lower limbs.

According to volunteers, this campaign involves lots of walking and knocking on doors, even the shouting out of names, in search of people infected so they could be given the appropriate medication (ivermectin and/or albendazole).

Diethylcarbamazine, or as its better known, DEC (which is cheap and the drug of choice) cannot be used in Africa because of the possibility of severe side effects with other parasitic infections like onchocerciasis.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the parasite that causes elephantiasis is present in nearly one quarter of the Sierra Leone population.

This incapacitating and extremely disfiguring disease affects 40 million people world wide.

Lymphatic filariasis is a mosquito-borne disease caused by the parasite, Wuchereria bancrofti in Africa.

Most infections are asymptomatic. Any disease present may be due to immune response. If the infection persists the chronic stages of disease develop.

It will then go into an inflammatory stage where lymphadema, orchitis and hydrocele occur.

The obstructive stage of the disease is called elephantiasis. In this stage, which may take years, there is a blockage of lymph flow due to masses of worms. Tissue becomes fibrotic and skin thickens.

Enlarged legs, arms, mammory glands and genitalia are classic appearances of elephantiasis.

In addition, there are emotional and psychological aspects to this disease due to the appearance and stigma. In Sierra Leone, elephantiasis is also known as “Big Foot”.

See more on lymphatic filariasis

Photo/Global Alliance to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis

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About the Author

- Robert Herriman, MPH,M(ASCP) is a health, politics and world news writer at the

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  1. Not a common illness, but caused by a worm affecting the lymphatic system. Very sad for anyone suffering such condition

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