Lymphatic filariasis (LF) is a mosquito-borne parasitic disease caused by microscopic, thread-like worms. Globally, 120 million people in 80 countries are affected by LF, and the disease is the second leading cause of permanent and long-term disability worldwide. Adult worms cause permanent damage to the human lymphatic system that results in swelling of the limbs and breasts (lymphedema) and scrotum (hydrocele), or swollen limbs with severely thickened, hard, rough and fissured skin (elephantiasis). Affected people frequently are unable to work because of their disability, and this harms their families and their communities.
Lymphatic filariasis can be eliminated. To achieve that goal, the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis was established and set a target elimination date of 2020. Elimination will be achieved primarily through regular mass drug administration in affected communities (1). In most countries, a single dose of two drugs (albendazole and diethyl-carbamazine or albendazole and ivermectin) is administered annually to the entire population in an at-risk area. In order to interrupt the spread of LF and eliminate the disease, coverage must reach a minimum of 80% of the population for an estimated duration of 6-7 years (2,3).
Symptoms of lymphatic filariasis such as lymphedema (swelling) and accompanying secondary infections, occurring when germs enter the body through entry lesions (such as cracks in the skin and between the toes), can be managed by practicing basic principles of care such as simple hygiene, exercise, and treatment of wounds. Patients can be taught simple hygiene techniques for washing the affected body parts daily with soap and room temperature water, and keeping the nails and spaces between toes clean. When practiced regularly in conjunction with daily exercise of the affected limb and treatment of wounds, these hygiene measures have been shown to reduce the frequency of acute attacks (4).
For more information on lymphatic filariasis, please visit CDC’s lymphatic filariasis page or the website of the Global Alliance for the Elimination of Lymphatic Filariasis.
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 1993. Recommendations of the International Task Force for Disease Eradication. MMWR 42 (RR16):1-25. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00025967.htm
- Ottesen, EA, 2006. Lymphatic filariasis: Treatment, control and elimination. Adv Parasitol 2006;61:395-441.
- World Health Organization 2000. Preparing and Implementing a National Plan to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis. Available at http://whqlibdoc.who.int/HQ/2000/WHO_CDS_CPE_CEE_2000.15.pdf [PDF - 362 kb]
- Dreyer G, Addis D, Dryer P, & Noroes J 2002. Basic Lymphoedema Management: Treatment and Prevention of Problems Associated with Lymphatic Filariasis (23-30). Hollis, NH: Hollis Publishing Company.