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Pop a pill to fight filariasis

Govt counter to largely neglected disease

The swollen limbs of a lymphatic filariasis patient

Patna: Mahendru resident Bhola was eight years old when he got high fever and experienced shivering and loss of appetite. Few months later when he was found to be suffering from lymphatic filariasis, it was too late to reverse the condition.

The disease is spread by a parasitic worm and is transmitted among people by mosquito bites. Experts said most infected people with lymphatic filariasis are asymptomatic and develop clinical symptoms in later stages. It is too late then because the parasite would already have damaged the lymphatic system.

When the disease becomes chronic, it leads to conditions like lymphoedema (tissue swelling), elephantiasis (skinissue thickening) of limbs and hydrocele (scrotal swelling).

Bhola's left leg below the knees had started swelling when the disease was detected, and soon his limb weighed almost 20kg more than normal. Now, he is 21 years old.

The state government will conduct the annual mass drug administration of diethycarbamazine citrate and albendazole tablets to check incidents of lymphatic filariasis. The drive this year will be conducted from February 19-24 in Sheikhpura and Jehanabad districts.

Children less than two years of age, the critically ill and pregnant women would be excluded from the drive. This programme was launched in 2004.

"After the worms reach the lymphatic system, they start to grow and multiply into multiple protozoa. The protozoa causing filariasis might be present in one's body but the clinical symptoms are visible only when one's lymphatic system is totally damaged. Bihar contributes around 25 per cent of the total lymphoedema cases and 45 per cent of hydrocele cases in the country," said an official of the World Health Organization on the condition of anonymity.

"The disease is also known as the neglected tropical disease. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh falls among high priority states in the elimination programme of lymphatic filariasis in the country," the official added.

This disease goes largely neglected because unlike other conditions, filariasis is not life-threatening. It, however, causes lifelong disability and other social disadvantages.

"Among the various challenges faced by the state government in the eradication of the lymphatic filariasis is the people's unwillingness to be part of the mass drug administration. Many people refuse to take the pills provided by the government health machinery as they doubt its quality but the fact is by taking the medicine they can save themselves," the WHO official said.

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