Hesperian Health Guides

Elephantiasis (lymphatic filariasis)

Elephantiasis is caused by tiny worms that are spread by mosquitoes (the worm is called “filariasis”). Usually there are no signs until many years after infection. Where elephantiasis is a problem, the best way to prevent its spread is giving medicines to treat people who already have it. The medicines kill the parasites inside the person, so mosquitoes can’t spread them to others. Different mosquito types can carry the illness. Preventing mosquitoes from biting and breeding help keep it away.

Signs of elephantiasis develop after an infected person has had it a long time. They include swelling of legs and arms, and in men, the scrotum. There are attacks with fever and severe pain.

Treatment includes antibiotic and anti-parasitic medicines to kill the parasites and stop the disease from getting worse. Pain relievers help reduce pain and fever. Sometimes a swollen part of the body can be treated with surgery. Talk to a health worker to get the medicines you need and learn exercises and other ways to help swollen legs and other problems.

a man putting his leg in cold water
Putting the affected part of your body in cold water right away will help lessen pain and swelling from a skin infection. Drink lots of water, rest with the affected body part elevated, use aspirin or paracetamol (acetaminophen) to lower the fever, and see your health worker for further treatment.

This page was updated:25 Nov 2019