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Antibiotics help combat dangerous tropical disease

More than 120 million people worldwide suffer from Filarial infection and some// get grotesque condition called elephantiasis, where their legs resemble that of an Elephant. The condition is caused by a pathogen called wuchereria bancrofti, this is a threadlike worm They go and house themselves in the body’s lymph nodes where they cause the blockage of the flow of lymphatic fluids and cause swelling of an organ like the legs or genitalia like the scrotum, penis or vulva.

The adult wuchereria worms have a lifespan of up to five years. And during this time they produce millions of offspring known as microfilariae. These micro-filarae from an infected patient find themselves infecting another person when the mosquito has another go at the blood pf these individuals. Once in the blood circulation they mature into adult worm and settle in their lymph nodes and the cycle keeps repeating.

"Although the drugs currently in use kill the micro-filariae, they largely leave the adult worms unscathed," Bonn parasitologist Professor Achim H?rauf explains. "Due to the long lifespan of the wuchereria worms, therapy lasts several years, during which time the symptoms continue to persist." The drug to treat the micro-filariae can also cause severe side-effects.

In an interesting find it was realized that the filarial threadworm is dependant on a bacteria to survive and if the bacteria is killed the worm also will die. "This is why wuchereria is susceptible to antibiotics which are normally used against bacterial infections," said Professor H?rauf emphasizes. In their study in Tanzania they treated 72 male patients for eight weeks with doxycyclin or a placebo.

What they found was that initially the patients blood was swarming with micro-filariae and the researchers counted on an average up to 1,300 of them per milliliter of blood. However in patients treated with doxycylin the micro-filariae had almost completely disappeared when the blood
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