Lymphatic filariasis
April 28, 2006 7:01 AM   Subscribe

Lymphatic filariasis (or, more dramatically, "elephantiasis") is spread by mosquitoes. The mosquitoes transmit worms to your blood, the worms mate while you sleep, and their progeny travel to your lymph nodes to live a happy life. Unfortunately for you, the worms can get too big, allowing fluid to collect in your limbs or scrotum. Lucky for your neighbors, the disease can be controlled using salt. (China already did it).
posted by stemlot (9 comments total)
Cool topic. Filarial diseases are teh haxxor!

The missing wikipedia links to other important filarial diseases.

The first two you got are sheathed

The other sheathed is Loa Loa.

Unsheathed microfiliaria include: Onchocerca , Mansonella, and Dirofilaria (which is the reason your dog takes a pill every month).

Oncocherca is the cause of river blindness. It is a fascinating disease with a very interesting treatment history. It's one of the things you can actually praise a major pharmaceutical company (Merck) for doing. They donate it for free in perpetuity.

Anyways I'm a pathologist so this stuff is just fascinating to me. In order to prove that a patient has this you have to draw blood samples when the vector (mosquito, fly) is feeding (in the native country). This is the only time that the microfilaria will be detectable in the bloodstream. This often is the middle of the night (~ 3AM) or so in the states.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 7:35 AM on April 28, 2006

Or, more incorrectly, elephantitis
posted by rxrfrx at 7:54 AM on April 28, 2006

A friend and I were just discussing this the other day. I had it confused with some other parasite which I have thankfully blocked from memory.
posted by malaprohibita at 8:28 AM on April 28, 2006

I thought they actually used salt, injected into the scrotum, to make giant balls.
I apparently read the wrong sites.
posted by kika at 9:01 AM on April 28, 2006

Still remember well when I was a high school senior and went to visit my older brother to check out his college. My visit coincided with a biology professor's infamous once-a-year lecture and slideshow on nematode worms, which apparently was always packed with people not even enrolled in the course, but looking for the kind of gross-out that campus cinema couldn't provide. A Google image search on filariasis gives you more pictures (including several that stemlot links to) that probably won't leave your head for a little while. (Warning: My link is basically SFW, but many of the ones Google comes up with are pretty damn NSFW, including one of affected female genitalia and one on the second page with a whole mess of worms apparently crawling/being coaxed out of someone's ass.
posted by donpedro at 1:26 PM on April 28, 2006

Educational and horrifying all at once. After looking at the map on one of those links I'm incredibly happy to live in the northern hemisphere. When I lived in Louisiana I was regularly bitten by mosquitos and all sorts of other fun swamp insects. But this makes me wonder whether there are similar worms that are spread to humans in north America...
posted by batgrlHG at 1:42 PM on April 28, 2006

A couple dumb questions: Is this condition the same as a goiter? Is the salt iodized, (commonly held to prevent of goiters.)?
posted by Blingo at 2:50 PM on April 28, 2006


A goiter is the result of iodine deficiency--the hormones that are produced by your thyroid gland require iodine, so if there isn't any iodine available your thyroid gland hypertrophies (grows really big) in a vain attempt to make the hormones that it can't produce.

In the case of lymphatic filariasis, salt can be laced with a deworming drug called diethylcarbamazine that will kill the little worms that swim around in your blood trying to mate. It's nice that the drug will remain stable in salt for long periods of time (it's an efficient delivery system, as demonstrated by the success of the drive to eliminate iodine deficiency), since otherwise everyone in an affected area would have to take a deworming pill once a year for at least seven years to get rid of the disease. A problem is that DEC, unlike iodine, can make you slightly ill, but the logic is that a decade of feeling ill once in a while beats a lifetime of elephant legs and swollen scrotums.
posted by stemlot at 3:24 PM on April 28, 2006

This was good. While I had heard of elephantitis before, I really had no idea that it was caused by worms. Kind of ups the ewwww factor for me.
posted by annieb at 3:14 PM on April 30, 2006

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