A condition characterized by an enormous swelling of a limb, the scrotum, or external female genitalia. Caused by (hold on to your supper, folks) clotty masses of parasitic worms in the lymphatic drainage system. Called elephantiasis both for the large size of the swelling and the rough appearance of affected skin.

My great-grandmother had elephantiasis in Egypt in her youth, affecting her pinky finger. Because a local fortune teller had predicted it, she suffered an unusual side-effect: the women in my family are now all conditioned to believe in fortune tellers and horoscopes. Sigh.
A parasitic disease caused by an infection of the microscopic worms Wuchereria bancrofti and Brugia malayi, who live in the lymph system. LF affects over 120 million people, almost all of whom live in places where you might expect to get infected by worms, such as subtropical Asia, Africa, Central America, and certain Pacific Islands.

The disease is spread from person to person by mosquitos; A mosquito bites an infected person, and picks up the worms. It then bites a non-infected person, and deposits some. The worms swim to the victim's lymph vessels, and make themselves at home. After the worms mature, they mate and release their new family into your circulatory system, and you are now a carrier of the disease.

Now we get to the fun part, the symptoms. According to the CDC, symptoms only show up when the adult worms die, after spending 7 years (!) living in your system. This sends your lymph system out of whack, and since your lymph system is the one that controls your body's fluid balance, this means that fluid begins to build up in places where it shouldn't, like your arms, legs, breasts, and--lucky guys--even your penis. These organs to swell to several times their original size. Because your lymph system also helps fight infections, you also start to succumb to other bacterial infections in your skin and lymph system. This can cause your skin to become thick and rough. It is this syndrome that is called elephantiasis, after Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man of 19th century England. The long-term effects of Lymphatic filariasis include disability, pain, and--sorry guys--sexual dysfunction. And, of course, the fact that you will likely be shunned as a freak.

Fortunately, this is not a disease you can just pick up while travelling through New Guinea; people tend to need several mosquito bites over several months or years before a worm takes. Living in unsanitary conditions is also a major factor. If you are infected, it will show up on a blood test.

Treatment of lymphatic filariasis is mainly the practice of making sure you don't pass on your god-forsaken condition to anyone else: Take a yearly dose of worm poison that is strong enough to kill the babies, but not the adults. Then, when the adults die and the symptoms start to show up, give any parts of your body that swell a good bath and a shot of anti-bacterial cream every day. And be sure to get lots of exercise in your swolen parts, as this will encourage circulation.

If you live in a place at risk for lymphatic filariasis, and you don't want to get it, there are a few things you can do:

  1. Get your whole community to take an anti-worm drug every few years.
  2. Don't let mosquitos breed near where you live.
  3. Don't go out at night, when skeeters are most active.
  4. Sleep under a mosquito net, slathered in repellent.
An interesting footnote: Although elephantiasis was named for the Elephant Man's condition, later examinations of Merrick's remains suggest that he was misdiagnosed with his own disease. It is more probable that he suffered from neurofibromatosis or possibly proteus syndrome.

Thanks to www.cdc.com for all the gory details.

A joke to lighten this node:

Jim decided to propose to Sandy, but prior to her acceptance Sandy had to confess to her man about her childhood illness. She informed Jim that she suffered a disease that left her breasts at the maturity of a 12 year old.

He stated that it was OK because he loved her soooo much. However, Jim felt this was also the time for him to open up and admit that he also had a deformity too.

Jim looked Sandy in the eyes and said....
"I too have a problem. My penis is the same size as an infant and I hope you could deal with that once we are married". She said, "Yes I will marry you and learn to live with your infant size penis."

Sandy and Jim got married and they could not wait for the Honeymoon. Jim whisked Sandy off to their hotel suite and they started touching, teasing, holding one another... As Sandy put her hands in Jim's pants, she began to scream and ran out of the room!
Jim ran after her to find out what was wrong. She said, "You told me your penis was the size of an infant!"

"Yes it is..... 8 pounds, 7 ounces, 19 inches long!!"

El`e*phan*ti"a*sis (?), n. [L., fr. Gr. , from , , an elephant.] Med.

A disease of the skin, in which it become enormously thickened, and is rough, hard, and fissured, like an elephant's hide.

 

© Webster 1913.

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