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Monday 24th October 2016

Cheap new test for lymphatic filariasis

6th November 2012

Researchers from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Japan have developed a new test that can diagnose lymphatic filariasis, a parasitic disease that affects millions globally.


The test is fairly effective, with a low error rate, and even surpasses older tests, and is able to detect infected individuals with a nearly 90% accuracy rate.

The test also rejects non-infected individuals with an accuracy rate of nearly 100%.

Lymphatic filariasis is caused by microscopic worms. When the larvae grow to maturity, they reproduce within the human host, although symptoms may not appear until years after infection.

The lymph system, which is affected by the worms, plays an important regulatory role in the body, and contracting the disease has drastic consequences.

The lymph system maintains the body's fluid balance, and plays a role in immunity.

People with the disease may suffer from elephantiasis, while men may suffer from enormously swollen testicles, and people who contract the disease usually become dependent on their families or communities.

While being infected with the worms does not automatically lead to a chronic disease, a significant percentage of infected people do begin to develop swollen limbs.

In addition to swelling, the disease can also cause permanent damage to lymph systems and kidneys.

In parts of Bangladesh that have high rates of the disease, about 16% are estimated to be infected, while around 3% are reported to have a chronic condition.

Although a campaign in 2002 brought infection rates down across Bangladesh, pockets of infection, particularly in the north, remain.

While urine-based tests have been developed before, the new test uses equipment that is likely to be available in poorer communities around the world.

Researchers hope that deploying the test will represent a major step in fighting the disease in regions where the parasite is still endemic.

The test costs less than one US dollar per unit, and uses beads of coloured latex, which respond to a specific filaria antigen, a by-product of immune activity against the parasite, in human urine.

Lymphatic filariasis is regarded as a neglected tropical disease, and is also known as elephantiasis. It thrives in tropical countries with poor sanitation and rapid population growth.

It is spread from human to human by mosquitoes, and only certain species of mosquitoes can spread the disease.

The way the immune system fights the parasite can lead to many complications, and the development of elephantiasis results from these.

The parasite also carries Wolbachia, a highly evolved symbiotic bacterium that lives inside its cells, which also creates problems for the human immune system.


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