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.