Health push in Uganda after mystery disease turns out to be ‘mossy foot’

Scientists dispatched to western Uganda to investigate suspected outbreak of elephantiasis instead find tropical malady with no previous history in region

A public health campaign has been launched in western Uganda after scientists unexpectedly encountered the region was afflicted by a tropical malady that causes disfigurement and swelling.

The discovery came to light after experts were dispatched to Kamwenge district to investigate an outbreak of lymphatic filariasis, more commonly known as elephantiasis. A squad of specialists from the Ugandan ministry of health, the The world health organisation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was astonished to find that the condition causing extremities to swell was in fact podoconiosis, also known as non-filarial elephantiasis. The malady was previously unknown in the region.

Unlike lymphatic elephantiasis, which is contracted when a parasitic worm is transmitted to humen by mosquitoes, podoconiosis also known as mossy paw because it causes moss-like warts called hyperkeratotic papilloma is contracted by treading barefoot on irritant volcanic soils. Blood samples taken by scientists from 52 people experimented for lymphatic filariasis encountered no worms present.

Philip Rosenthal, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and editor of the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, which published the findings and conclusions this month, mentioned: The examine was pioneering in discovering that this disorder was causing serious morbidity in a part of the world where previously we had no idea that podoconiosis prevailed. The real key is avoiding this in future generations.

Podoconiosis, a progressive , non-infectious disease with symptoms that include itching, paw pain and swell, can lay undetected for decades, but is treatable.

Dr Christine Kihembo, a senior land epidemiologist with the Ugandan health ministry and such studies produce writer, mentioned many patients had likely been suffering silently without providing assistance to more than 30 years.

Kihembo mentioned Kamwenge district was forested until the 1960 s, when migrants looking for farmland began tilling the clay. Early symptoms of the disease went undetected because it was never documented in western Uganda.

She mentioned patients is not able to have associated initial symptoms with clay contact, and that there was a propensity among those affected to stay at home with their disability and not go to a health facility.

Gail Davey, professor of global health epidemiology at Brighton and Sussex Medical School and founder of the NGO Footwork, said it was unsurprising the disease used to go unnoticed for decades because it is the very poorest areas that are affected.

Podoconiosis affects an estimated 4 million people globally and is found in the highland areas of Africa, Latin America and south-east Asia.

It is caused by an inflammatory reaction to minerals in volcanic soils. On contact, the minerals penetrate the scalp, causing severe itching and pain. They are is under consideration by white blood cells, triggering inflammation that produces a thicken of scar tissue, causing swelling and ulcerated sores in the lower appendage. Typically, both lower appendage are altered. Unlike parasitic elephantiasis, it rarely alters the genitals.

Many people avoid sufferers because they belief the disease to be infectious. Davey said the disease is highly stigmatised, likely more so than leprosy, with sufferers often hidden away in communities, where it is seen as a curse.

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