6 Oct 2011

Fiji encouraged to tackle elephantiasis

1:23 pm on 6 October 2011

A specialist of infectious diseases at Auckland University's Medical School says he encourages Fiji health authorities to mass medicate the population to eliminate the debilitating swelling illness, elephantiasis.

An Associate Professor Mark Thomas says surgery for those suffering from severe complications at the end stage of the disease is not usually helpful.

Up to 80 patients are due to be seen by a surgical team from France and Fiji's Health Ministry says 80,000 people or ten per cent of the population have the infection.

Professor Thomas says elephantiasis is due to an infection by an adult parasitic worm transmitted by mosquitos.

He says medical staff can find who's been infected by taking blood from people and looking for the immature parasites, or for antibodies to the parasite.

"The adult worm lives in the person's body for very, very, many years, and damages the lymph nodes and that leads to problems with fluid returning to the heart from the legs, or the scrotum, or the arms, and causes swelling because the fluid can't get through the damaged lymph nodes."

Professor Mark Thomas