Dreyer, G., Mattos, D., Figueredo-Silva, J., Norões, J.


Rev Assoc Med Bras, 55(3):355-62, May-Jun, 2009.


Organização Não-Governamental Amaury Coutinho para Doenças Endêmicas Tropicais, Recife, PE.

The way a particular subject is understood changes over time as a result of scientific research. In most cases, these changes are minor, with limited effect on the overall knowledge on the subject. Sometimes, however, revolutionary changes occur and not only modify the understanding of the subject but open perspectives that can trigger new interpretations and new ways for expansion of scientific knowledge. The studies of Gregor Johann Mendel were a good example. They led to discovery of the laws of inheritance which, in turn, have revolutionized biology and provided the foundation for genetics. In certain situations, changes not only alter ways of thinking, but have practical implications, also improving the quality of life for many people. In his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn refers to discontinuities in scientific development as a 'change of paradigm', a term now used in a generic manner to describe a profound changes in our reference points. For lymphatic filariasis the old paradigm stated that Wuchereria bancrofti at the adult stage causes lymphatic vessel obstruction, triggering an inevitable immune response in predisposed individuals and leading to elephantiasis. This has been replaced by a new paradigm, which offers hope that W. bancrofti infection does not necessarily predispose to the disfiguring outward manifestation of lymphatic dysfunction. Repeated secondary bacterial infections (erysipela-like) are now recognized as the most important factor for initiation and progression of chronic lymphedema in individuals living in filariasis-endemic areas. Most inhabitants of endemic communities can prevent and minimize the acute bacterial episodes by regular use of soap and water, the simplest form of hygiene already well known to human beings.