Elephantiasis (Elephantitis)

What is Elephantitis (Elephantiasis)?

Elephantitis is the common term used for a disease that causes the inflammation and thickening of the skin and the tissues underlying the same. It affects the arms, legs and the male and female genitals most commonly. Medically termed as elephantiasis or lymphatic filariasis, it is usually misspelt as elephantitis. Elephantitis or elephantiasis disease in males is characterized by the inflammation of the scrotum or the testicles to the size of a softball or even as big as a basketball. Such a case is known as elephantitis of the scrotum, testicular or balls elephantitis whereas elephantiasis or elephantitis in females is manifested in the form of breast, vagina and labia minora elephantitis. Elephantitis penis is also another kind of disease that a man with elephantitis suffers from. Besides these forms of genital elephantiasis; elephantitis head, elephantitis trunk, elephantitis face and groin, elephantitis nose or elephantiasis nostra verucossa, elephantitis hands, and elephantitis feet are common to both the sexes. It is basically caused by conditions known as podonconiasis and filariasis.

Picture 1 – Elephantitis (Elephantiasis)
Source – prime health channel

Elephantiasis is usually of two main types, namely lymphatic filariasis and non filarial elephantiasis. Lymphatic filariasis elephantiasis is caused by elephantitis parasites or worms that harm the lymphatic system of the body.

The other form of elephantiasis is non filarial elephantiasis that is caused due one’s vulnerability to volcanic ash. Elephantiasis, which is the true medical terminology of the term ‘elephantitis’ is highly prevalent in tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world. Elephantitis statistics and facts suggest that it affects almost 80% of the human population all over the world and elephantiasis history suggests that it has till now claimed millions of lives. The rest elephantitis or elephantiasis information can be embellished as further:

Signs and Symptoms of Elephantiasis

The symptoms of elephantitis depend on the cause of elephantiasis and do not come to light till the maturity of the disease. The most common symptom is inflammation or swelling. In such a case, the people with elephantitis suffer from mild to severe and irregular to regular swelling of especially the lower parts of the body, which is actually the effect of swollen lymph nodes. But swelling can also be observed on the head, face, breasts and other upper parts of the body.

Elephantitis is accompanied with acute pain in the area affected. This happens as when the body fights against the parasites naturally. Fever is a common phenomenon in case of this disease which is just not associated with chill and shivers but also causes the body to perspire abnormally. This causes the person to get highly exhausted and become lethargic and the headache may also cause nausea and vomiting.

Elephantiasis also causes the skin to suffer from hyper pigmentation. The disease is also characterized by the development of wrinkles and rashes over the face and red steaks over the arms and legs. The abnormality associated with the same also gives rise to skin ulcers and abscesses.

Elephantitis Balls

Elephantitis balls are one of the most dangerous symptoms of this disease that affects men. The swelling of the balls just not entail pain and other physical difficulties but their growth into grotesque size and shape also causes great social boycott and embarrassment. The condition is also known as ‘elephantitis of the balls’ or ‘elephantiasis of the nuts’. It physically and socially deforms a man for almost all his life.

In females, elephantitis can spread to the vulva and lead to severely painful tumerous growth.

The signs of elephantitis resemble the symptoms of many diseases related to the lymph nodes such as hereditary and secondary lymphedema but may also be associated with the same causing lymphedema elephantiasis.

Elephantitis Causes

In order to know as to what causes elephantitis, one must take into account both parasitic as well as non-parasitic causes of elephantitis.

In case of filarial elephantitis, medically termed as lymphatic filariasis, various microscopic parasitic worms such as B. timori, Wuchereria bancrofti, symbiotic Wolbachia bacteria and Brugia malayi are transmitted through mosquitoes, which thus cause elephantiasis. These elephantitis worms reside in the lymphatic system of humans, the system which is responsible for maintaining body fluids and cause an obstruction of the lymphatic vessels, thereby leading to the swelling of the lower torso of the body, specially affecting the limbs and the breasts and the genitals. The magnitude of the swelling is such that it is almost impossible to cover the swollen area. As according to elephantitis statistics, almost 90% cases of elephantitis is caused by the infestation of the filaria by these worm like creatures and is most visible in tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world.

In case of non-filarial elephantitis, which is also known as podoconiosis, there is no such parasitic infection as the term itself suggests. In fact it occurs due to persistent contact with irritant soil such as red clays rich in alkali metals like potassium and sodium and also volcanic by-products such as volcanic ash.

It may also be caused due to the accumulation of fluids in the body, a condition known as Edema, which causes the swelling of body parts.

Is Elephantitis Contagious?

Infected elephantitis mosquitoes are responsible for transmitting the disease from one person to another. They in fact transfer the larvae of the bacteria into the skin of the host, which grows to become an adult. This causes the grown filarial worms to travel to the lymph nodes of the same, thereby obstructing the lymphatic vessels and causing the vessels to swell. An interesting feature of the elephantiasis worms is that while the adult worms dwell within the lymph, their larval offspring penetrate into the blood stream and thereby obstructs the easy flow of blood through the vessels or nodes. Such a condition of bacterial infection is known as streptococcal lymphangitis. The obstruction of the blood flow may further aggravate to cause gangrene. This process of transmission continues with each new host.

However, in case of non-filarial elephantitis, the disease like elephantitis is caused due to the vulnerability of the body to infectious agents such as harmful chemicals. In tropical and sub-tropical areas such as Africa and Asia, most people in rural areas travel barefoot. This causes them to come in contact with alkali metals such as sodium and potassium which move upwards to cause an infection of the lymph. It also spreads in volcanic regions and is one of the foremost reasons of irritation for people with elephantitis in such disaster zones. Elephantiasis life cycle is ensured by the elephantitis transmission through mosquitoes and worms as well as chemical irritants.

Elephantiasis Diagnosis

Since elephantitis shares its symptoms with very many diseases associated with the lymphatic system, and other immune disorders, the diagnosis of elephantitis using simple methods becomes difficult.

Microscopic test is a method of diagnosing elephantitis through powerful microscopes which can detect and recognize the presence and type of microscopic parasites.

Another way of diagnosing the elephantitis disease is biopsy of the lymph node which helps detect the actual cause of the elephantitis infection. But this method is not really sought after for an effective diagnosis of the same.

Elephantitis (Elephantiasis) Pictures

Check out the pictures of elephantiasis to know more about the condition.

Picture 2 – Elephantiasis (Elephantitis) Balls
Source – wordpress

Picture 3 – Elephantiasis Image
Source – healthcaremagic

Elephantiasis Treatment

The treatment for elephantitis depends on the geographic location of the endemic area. Although there is no absolute cure for those suffering from elephantitis and there are no available vaccines as well, yet one may take help of some of the methods for the treatment of elephantitis in order to reduce the harmful effects of the same.

The first method of treating elephantitis is to clean the affected areas on a regular basis which shall help limit the symptoms of lymphatic filariasis. Disinfectants are used to clean the wound in and around the affected area.

Antibiotics such as doxycycline, diethylcarbamazine, are administered to patients for several weeks (usually eight weeks) which help in curbing the proliferation of the elephantitis worms. But it has been effective in only providing temporary relief from the disorder since the bacterial agents are immune resistant. Antibiotics are not administered to children and pregnant women.

Anti-filarial drugs are effective in killing worms which have not yet attained adulthood. They are also responsible for destroying the larvae of adult elephantitis worms. But the type and administration of the drugs is geo-specific. For instance, in most parts of the world, albendazole is administered in conjunction with diethylcarbamazine whereas; albendazole is used along with ivermectin in sub-Saharan Africa.

However, when all the aforementioned methods fail and the condition seems a bit serious, one may have to take recourse to surgeries. Surgical operations are usually conducted in cases of scrotal, penis, vaginal elephantitis and hydrocele.

Manual lymph drainage is also a method that physicians use to pump out the fluids out of the affected area.

The other variant of elephantitis, i.e., non-filarial elephantitis may be dealt with various precautionary methods such as keeping the affected area clean and tidy with the help of ointments, and other kind of antiseptics; using mosquito nets and repellents in case lymphatic filariasis, wearing elastic bandages, and the overall maintenance of one’s personal hygiene. One must also wear shoes consistently in order to avoid any kind of infection.

Moreover, the development of a vaccine to treat elephantitis is on the cards and doctors are optimistic of developing the same in the near future.

Hence, one must take these necessary precautions in order to avert such a dangerous disease since it is highly responsible for just not causing lifelong physical and sexual deformity and disability but also depression and social embarrassment.



  1. Lillian Rice July 17, 2011
  2. Janet Dawkisn July 17, 2012
  3. MARWA KISIRI September 28, 2012
  4. Leila Ismael July 31, 2013
  5. Margie Walls August 12, 2014
  6. Do Abid Rao March 17, 2015
  7. A. Nonymous April 12, 2015
  8. ghanshyam February 15, 2016
  9. Munyaradzi Mparamoto September 15, 2016
  10. Pam March 29, 2017

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