Addiss, D.G., Louis-Charles, J., Roberts, J., Leconte, F., Wendt, J.M., Milord, M.D., Lammie, P.J., Dreyer, G..


PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 4(4):e668 (8 pages), 2010.



Approximately 14 million persons living in areas endemic for lymphatic filariasis have lymphedema of the leg. Clinical studies indicate that repeated episodes of bacterial acute dermatolymphangioadenitis (ADLA) lead to progression of lymphedema and that basic lymphedema management, which emphasizes hygiene, skin care, exercise, and leg elevation, can reduce ADLA frequency. However, few studies have prospectively evaluated the effectiveness of basic lymphedema management or assessed the role of compressive bandaging for lymphedema in resource-poor settings.

Methodology/Principal Findings

Between 1995 and 1998, we prospectively monitored ADLA incidence and leg volume in 175 persons with lymphedema of the leg who enrolled in a lymphedema clinic in Leogane, Haiti, an area endemic for Wuchereria bancrofti. During the first phase of the study, when a major focus of the program was to reduce leg volume using compression bandages, ADLA incidence was 1.56 episodes per person-year. After March 1997, when hygiene and skin care were systematically emphasized and bandaging discouraged, ADLA incidence decreased to 0.48 episodes per person-year (P<0.0001). ADLA incidence was significantly associated with leg volume, stage of lymphedema, illiteracy, and use of compression bandages. Leg volume decreased in 78% of patients; over the entire study period, this reduction was statistically significant only for legs with stage 2 lymphedema (P = 0.01).


Basic lymphedema management, which emphasized hygiene and self-care, was associated with a 69% reduction in ADLA incidence. Use of compression bandages in this setting was associated with an increased risk of ADLA. Basic lymphedema management is feasible and effective in resource-limited areas that are endemic for lymphatic filariasis.

Author Summary 

Lymphatic filariasis is a parasitic disease that is spread by mosquitoes. In tropical countries where lymphatic filariasis occurs, approximately 14 million people suffer from chronic swelling of the leg, known as lymphedema. Repeated episodes of bacterial skin infection (acute attacks) cause lymphedema to progress to its disfiguring form, elephantiasis. To help achieve the goal of eliminating lymphatic filariasis globally, the World Health Organization recommends basic lymphedema management, which emphasizes hygiene, skin care, exercise, and leg elevation. Its effectiveness in reducing acute attack frequency, as well as the role of compressive bandaging, have not been adequately evaluated in filariasis-endemic areas. Between 1995 and 1998, we studied 175 people with lymphedema of the leg in Leogane, Haiti. During Phase I of the study, when compression bandaging was used to reduce leg volume, the average acute attack rate was 1.56 episodes per year; it was greater in people who were illiterate and those who used compression bandages. After March 1997, when hygiene and skin care were emphasized and bandaging discouraged, acute attack frequency significantly decreased to 0.48 episodes per year. This study highlights the effectiveness of hygiene and skin care, as well as limitations of compressive bandaging, in managing lymphedema in filariasis-endemic areas.