WHO updates fact sheet on Lymphatic Filariasis (1 March 2016)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has updated its fact sheet on lymphatic filariasis.

Background information:

Lymphatic filariasis, commonly known as elephantiasis, is a neglected tropical disease that occurs when filarial parasites are transmitted to humans through mosquitoes.

Infection causes damage to the lymphatic system, resulting in  the abnormal enlargement of body parts, causing pain, severe disability and social stigma.

Key Messages:

1.10 billion people in 55 countries worldwide are at risk of developing lymphatic filariasis and require preventive chemotherapy to stop the spread of this parasitic infection.

Approximately 80% of these people are living in the following 10 countries:

  • Angola
  • Cameroon
  • Côte d’Ivoire
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Mozambique
  • Myanmar
  • United Republic of Tanzania and
  • Nigeria

In 2000 over 120 million people were infected, with about 40 million disfigured and incapacitated by the disease.

Lymphatic filariasis infection involves asymptomatic, acute, and chronic conditions.

The majority of infections are asymptomatic, showing no external signs of infection. These asymptomatic infections still cause damage to the lymphatic system and the kidneys, and alter the body’s immune system.

When lymphatic filariasis develops into chronic conditions it leads to lymphoedema (tissue swelling) or elephantiasis (skin/tissue thickening) of limbs and hydrocele (scrotal swelling).

Involvement of breasts and genital organs is common.

Such body deformities lead to social stigma, as well as financial hardship from loss of income and increased medical expenses.

WHO’s Global Programme to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis (GPELF) aims to eliminate lymphatic filariasis by 2020. The WHO’s strategy is based on 2 key components:

  • stopping the spread of infection through large-scale annual treatment of all eligible people in an area or region where infection is present; and
  • alleviating the suffering caused by lymphatic filariasis through increased morbidity management and disability prevention activities.

Large-scale treatment involves a single dose of 2 medicines given annually to an entire at-risk population in the following way:

  • albendazole (400 mg) with ivermectin (150-200 mcg/kg) OR
  • albendazole (400 mg) with diethylcarbamazine citrate (DEC) (6 mg/kg).

Clinical severity and progression of the disease, including acute inflammatory episodes, can be reduced and prevented with simple measures of

  • hygiene
  • skin care
  • exercise and
  • elevation of affected limbs

Useful Links:

Link to the updated fact sheet:


Link to progress report 2000-2009 and strategic plan to eliminate lymphatic filariasis 2010-2020 (Published in 2010):


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