The Taipei Times has a story about a woman from Peru undergoing an operation to treat her elephantiasis. This is of interest to me, because the standard thoughts on treatment of this disease do not include surgery. In fact, surgery has been shown to worsen the symptoms of blocked lymphatic channels.
The 45 year old woman, from Peru, will undergo an operation on her right leg, which now weighs 50 kg. The surgeon, Chen Hung-chi, specializes in plastic surgery and specifically elephantiasis.
This disease is caused by filaria (microscopic worms) that are acquired form the bite of an infected mosquito. The worms grow into adults and migrate to the lymphatic channels of the legs, blocking them. The results are massive swelling and infections of the legs. Treatment has traditionally been antibiotics to kill the worms. The swollen leg, unfortunately, never goes back to “normal” size. Surgery has also been contraversial because it scars the already damaged lymphatic channels, often making the blockages worse.
The Parasite that causes this, most commonly, is Wucheria Bancrofti. The group of parasite W. Bancrofti belongs with are called Helminthes and they cause some pretty interesting diseases, too.