In the news today is a 23-year old woman named Wang Cheng, of Xuzhou in east China’s Jiangsu province, who is suffering from a disease which has caused her legs to continue to grow, with the widest part now measuring 27.6 inches (70 centimeters). The disgusting disease, which Wang contracted when she was 7, is believed to be Elephantiasis.
Elephantiasis is the name given to a firm, rubbery, slowly developing swelling of various parts of the body. The legs are most often affected. Also affected are the feet, arms, scrotum, breasts, and vulva. Medical experts say that the enlargement is caused by chronic obstruction of lymph drainage. Examination of the tissues shows that the deeper layers of the skin, with underlying connective tissues, are thickened and changed into a blubbery mass which oozes lymph freely when punctured or cut.
It is chiefly during the period when species of small, slender parasitic worms, known as microfilariae, are developing into mature worms in the lymphatics that acute symptoms preceding elephantiasis occur. These may be fever, inflammation of the lymph vessels, enlargement of the lymph nodes, abscess formation, tissue destruction, and scarring. Doctors say that it is during this period that treatments with diethylcarbamazine (Hetrazan) do the most good.
If the development of elephantiasis is discovered early enough, doctors recommend doing three things:
1) It is wise to have a physician give a series of treatments with diethylcarbamazine (Hetrazan). The series may continue as long as two years. This will kill most of the filariae in circulation at the time and make the final outcome less serious.
2) In the early stages of swelling of a limb, elevation of the limb, the wearing of elastic bandages, and alternate hot and cold applications two or three times daily will prove helpful.
3) Surgical removal of the thickened tissue has, in some cases, restored a leg to a more normal appearance and to a degree of usefulness.
The chief drawbacks of the disease are awkwardness and repulsive appearance. These are, in some cases, so extensive that the victim cannot work or even move about much without help. There is no known cure. There would be more hope of finding one sometime if the lymph-vessel obstruction were always caused by living worms; but often it is the dead and calcified bodies of these parasites which perpetuate the obstruction to lymph flow, no matter what medication or treatment is used. These facts make preventive measures all the more important.