Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene/Volume 1/On the Role of Filaria in the Production of Disease

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Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, volume 1
On the Role of Filaria in the Production of Disease by W. T. Prout


W. T. PROUT, M.B., C.M.G., Liverpool.

(Friday, March 20th, 1908.)

I FEEL that I owe an apology to this Society for again bringing before it the subject of filariasis, as one aspect of it was so recently and ably considered in the very interesting paper which was read by Dr. Low, and which went over some of the ground which I must necessarily cover; but my excuse must be that when I was asked to read a paper, I was unaware that a paper on the same subject was contemplated, and I had already been collecting material. If, then, I am unable to lay anything very new before you, I must crave your indulgence, and trust that the point of view from which I wish to approach it may be of sufficient interest to pardon any repetition, especially as I am inclined to take a different view of the relationship between filaria and disease from that which is generally held.

And, in the first place, it is necessary at once to exclude a number of filariae from the scope of this paper. Of Filaria demarquayi, F. ozzardi, F. perstans, and others, little is known as regards their life history, and no pathological condition is yet regarded as being associated with them. It was suggested, tentatively, that F. perstaiis might be the causal agent in sleeping sickness; we now know that it is due to a trypanosome. The disease known on the West Coast of Africa as craw-craw has also been associated with a filaria, but in my experience this is erroneous. In cases where there are filariae in the blood we are pretty sure to obtain filaria if we puncture a papule, especially as it is difficult to do so without drawing a little blood, and if we look carefully we will find another parasite in a large number of cases, namely, the Acarus scabiei. Craw-craw is, in my opinion, a very slipshod diagnosis to make; it is not a specific disease at all, but a term loosely applied by the natives of the West Coast of Africa to almost any form of skin eruption, including itch, ringworm, eczema, etc., aggravated as these are by dirt and the excessive action of the skin, and it can in all cases be classified among one or other of the well-known forms of skin disease.

I do not propose to discuss the question of F. medinensis. The clinical phenomena, inflammation, induration of the limb, sometimes sloughing and abscess, are recognised as being due to the presence of this worm and disappear with its removal.


There are, then, only two left of any importance, pathologically, namely, F. loa and F. nocturna. The adult F. loa is a worm whose habitat appears to be the connective tissue, and which becomes visible when it approaches the surface in any situation where the tissues are thin and lax, as, for example, in the scrotum, the penis, and the conjunctivae, from all of which specimens have been excised.

Evidence is accumulating that a micro-filaria showing a certain amount of diurnal periodicity is the embryonic form of this worm, and I should like to bring before you a new case which illustrates this point, and two other cases where the presence of this worm was associated with certain cutaneous phenomena. The three cases were seen by me recently, and occurred in Europeans who had been for longer or shorter periods in the Calabar district of Southern Nigeria. In each of them the adult worm had been seen passing, meteor-like, across the conjunctiva, but had not been excised because it had not been possible to call a medical man before it had disappeared. We must conclude, then, that the parent worm is still at large in the bodies of these gentlemen. In two of the cases I have not been able to examine the blood more than once or twice, and on each occasion the examination was negative. In the third I was able to get a series of slides, with the following results:—

First day.—12 noon, four; 8 p.m., two; 12 midnight, none.
Second day.—4 a.m., none; 8 a.m., none; 12 noon, two (this was a poor Him); 4 p.m., none; 8 p.m., none; 12 midnight, one.
Third day.—4 a.m., none; 8 a.m., none; 12 noon, three (this was taken by myself).

In each case a space equal to an ordinary square cover glass was examined. The degree of blood infection was therefore not great, but the periodicity was well marked, filaria being found on each day at noon, only once being found during the night. I have not measured the specimens, but the worm has a sheath, and very much resembles F. nocturna.

In each of these cases the presence of the loa has been associated with skin phenomena, and a brief description may be of interest.

Case 1.—The patient first noticed, in February, 1907, an intolerable itching in the neighbourhood of the big toe, which lasted for about twenty-four hours. The patient would scratch the place, then a watery bleb would form, and sometimes a general puffiness of the part, and after a day or two this would subside. There would be a lull for about three weeks, and then another attack. This lasted for about two months, then the bleb-forming stopped, and since that time he has only had attacks of swelling and puffiness. I saw him in October, 1907. There was then itching and puffiness of dorsum of right foot, which disappeared in a couple of days. Since then there has been no recurrence.

Case 2 has had similar attacks of itching, followed by swelling, but these have occurred on many parts of the body, head, arms, hands, feet, and legs. The symptoms were first noticed three and a half years ago. When the adult first passed over the eye, it caused a tickling, followed by soreness. It was last seen in June, 1907. I saw him in November, 1907. There were then no signs of any kind, and there has been no recurrence, it is interesting to note that with the onset of the cold weather the worm does not appear to come near the surface, and the cutaneous phenomena cease.

Case 3, the one in which I have found embryos; there have been no typical swellings, though the patient said that he had a swelling of the left wrist in July, 1907, which persisted for some time. He suffers, however, from a peculiar cutaneous irritability. Parts of his body itch, he scratches and causes excoriations, with here and there small subcutaneous, reddish maculae. Otherwise his general condition is good. In none of these was there any glandular enlargement.

In a paper in the Journal of Tropical Medicine (November 16, 1903, p. 347), Sir P. Manson describes cases of Calabar swelling occurring in the Congo, and suggests their relationship to F. loa ; and Dr. Habershon, in the same journal, also cites cases where the association of localized swelling was noticed. In the original case of F. loa described by Dr. Argyll Robertson, swelling of the legs and arms was also observed.

I think, then, that we have now a sufficient number of recorded cases to justify us in associating the presence of F. loa with Calabar swellings, but I am inclined to attribute the local phenomena to the mechanical irritation of the adult worm as it forces its way through the connective tissue near the surface. The oedema which would result would be intensified by the rubbing and scratching which takes place as a consequence of the itching, and the intensity of the phenomena would depend, to a large extent, upon the sensitiveness of the individual's skin. We know, for example, how very differently a mosquito bite will affect different individuals.

F. nocturna.

But it is when we come to F. nocturna that we find an association with a long list of diseases, which include lymphangitis, abscess, varicose glands, lymphatic varix, lymph scrotum, elephantiasis, etc.—in other words, with a series of diseases connected with inflammation or obstruction of some part or other of the lymphatic system.

It is unnecessary for me to enter into a history of this worm, which is well known. Its association with the diseases I have mentioned dates from the seventies and early eighties of last century. It was then that Sir P. Manson published his valuable and interesting work on the periodicity of the embryos and their transmission by the mosquito, and made suggestions as to the connection of the worm in the system and the occurrence of certain diseases. I have only recently had an opportunity of perusing this work, and I must confess to a feeling of astonishment that these very valuable and suggestive observations, forming, as they really do, the foundation of the present progressive position of tropical medicine, should have been for so long allowed to pass with so little recognition from the medical profession, and apparently without their vast importance being realized.

Of recent years there has been a marked advance in our knowledge of the distribution of filariasis, the methods of its transmission from the mosquito to the human host have been worked out and the presence of other blood worms has been demonstrated. But the knowledge of the actual mechanism by which the F. nocturna is said to produce disease remains much the same as it was twenty-five years ago, and I propose to examine briefly the reasons for and against the opinion that F. nocturna is the causal agent in producing the diseases which I have enumerated, especially elephantiasis. And it is important to remember that in the 'seventies, when this theory took its rise, the extensive geographical distribution of F. nocturna was not well known, as well as the very great variations in the amount of the relative infection of different peoples, and it was not an unnatural conclusion that this worm, whose habitat was the lymphatics, which was found in tropical countries, in which also a disease of the lymphatics, namely, elephantiasis, was common, a disease clearly associated with some form of obstruction of the lymphatics, was the causal agent in producing this and other similar diseases. And it has been generally assumed that this is the correct view, and considerable ingenuity has be3n shown in explaining the difficulties which have from time to time cropped up. I propose, then, for the sake of argument, to assume that elephantiasis is not due to filaria, to criticise as impartially as possible the various suggestions put forward, to examine the possible mechanism of its production, and to see whether, if possible, there is not another explanation which would account for the production of this and other so-called filarial diseases.

Now the argument relied on in favour of the causal relationship between F. nocturna and filarial diseases are mainly two:—

1. That the geographical distribution of endemic elephantiasis and F. nocturna coincide, and
2. That F. bancrofti is a parasite whose habitat is the lymphatic system; elephantiasis, etc., are diseases due to obstruction of the l3nnphatic system, therefore they are associated. Of course this is putting it very briefly and crudely.

1. The coincidence between the geographical distribution of endemic elephantiasis and F. bancrofti is claimed as being one of the most important proofs of the connection between the two, and it is maintained that where F. nucturna is common, there elephantiasis is common, and vice versa. Now, the coincidence of the geographical distribution of elephantiasis and F. nocturna simply means that both are found universally over the Tropics. I do not propose to go into this at length, as it was so fully considered recently, but I should like to say that it was the disagreement between the knowledge of the prevalence of elephantiasis in a locality, and what I unexpectedly found to be the degree of filarial infection, which led me to doubt whether the connection was quite so clear. I had accepted the theory, but when I began to examine the blood in Sierra Leone, where elephantiasis exists but is not obtrusively common, and I found that a large percentage of the population was infected with filarial embryos, I must confess that I began to ask myself what the explanation of this was. In a paper on filariasis in Sierra Leone I showed that the average infection of the Colony and Protectorate was 21.4 per cent., varying from 173 in Freetown to 38.7 in one of the outlying districts. I also showed that the natives of Freetown themselves only showed an infection of 6.5 per cent. So far as filarial diseases were concerned, I showed that chyluria is very rare, that lymph scrotum is very rare, but that enlarged lymphatic glands are very common. Out of 1210 cases admitted to the Colonial Hospital in 1900, derived from all parts of the Colony, there were no cases of elephantiasis; in 1901 two cases of elephantiasis of scrotum and two of leg. In the Protectorate, where the invasion is great (much greater than in Barbadoes), a number of cases are to be found on searching, but they are not obtrusive, and are clearly not so common as they are in Barbadoes. Of course, in a scattered population such as is found in the Protectorate, it is very difficult to get an idea as to the exact percentage, but a medical officer of great experience put it down as about 5 per 10,000 as an outside estimate.

It is evident that, with varying degrees of infection of the general population with F. nocturna, we ought to have a fairly fixed ratio of elephantiasis, but up to the present we have no proof of this. The only thing we have to go on are impressions that the disease is common. I have taken the trouble to go through the Colonial Office reports, with a view to see what ratio the admissions for elephantiasis bear to total admissions, but unfortunately the reports are absolutely useless for this purpose, as diseases are lumped together under each separate system— "Diseases of Lymphatic System," etc.

We can find many statements like this : Dr. Finucane, speaking of Fiji, says that "it is almost impossible to find an adult person free from elephantiasis in certain districts," "Every growing Fijian child shows signs of 'waganga,' that is, a form of lymphangitis," " Most Fijians are liable to four or five attacks annually," and so on. Now, no doubt these are valuable as records of clinical experience, but we should certainly expect to find some definite relationship between the varying distribution of filariasis and elephantiasis. That up to the present, I submit, has not been shown, and until it is, this particular argument cannot have the force which it would otherwise have.

Now, in considering the question of the relationship between animal parasites and disease, we should, I think, be able to apply similar rules to those which obtain in the case of diseases caused by vegetable micro-organisms:—

1. We should be able to prove the invariable association of the parasite with the disease produced.
2. We should be able to remove the parasite and grow it outside the human body.
3. We should be able to re-introduce it into the human body or that of some lower animal and there reproduce a similar disease.
4. We should be again able to demonstrate the presence of the parasite.

With reference to the first, I shall show presently the invariable association of F. nocturna has not being clearly proved; indeed, its absence in the case of elephantiasis is cited as one of the proofs of its association with the disease, and this difficulty requires explanation.

The second condition has undoubtedly been fulfilled by the proof that the parasite grows outside the human body in the mosquito, and that the human host is reinfected by the medium of the proboscis. But, of course, it is not possible to experiment on the human being in the case of a parasite which may produce a dangerous disease, nor to introduce it into one of the lower animals, as a human parasite does not necessarily flourish in any of them, so that the production of the disease, experimentally, and the recognition of the parasite afterwards—the third and fourth conditions—are still wanting. We find, then, that up to the present we fail in several of the conditions laid down, and we are forced to endeavour to come to our conclusion by means of deductions from definitely ascertained facts in the human body and the possible behaviour and effect of the parasite.

And at the outset, in the case of filariasis, we are met by several difficulties. In the first place, it is not maintained, so far as I have been able to ascertain, that the presence of the embryo of F. nocturna is the pathological factor in the production of disease : if that were so we should also have to admit that the other embryonic forms might also produce disease. The embryo must, therefore, be regarded as harmless; the adult worm is the pathogenic agent.

Now, the first difficulty we have to get over is the fact, which is generally admitted, that in the great majority of instances the adult worm appears also to be harmless. Sir P. Manson states:

"There is nothing in the life-history of F. sanguinis hominis and its relation to the human host incompatible with the perfect health of the latter. The amount of injury done by the immature parasite in its travels towards its permanent abode is so trifling that no serious disease can possibly result from it. The mature animal itself lies extended in a vessel, and is perfectly adapted by its size and shape for the situation which it occupies; it creates no irritation, and the small amount of obstruction which it may give rise to is readily compensated for by a rich anastomosis. The embryos move along with the lymph, and, being no broader than the corpuscles, readily pass the glands and enter the general circulation. Hence they give rise to no trouble but circulate as easily as the blood corpuscles. In fact, the parasite seems in every respect well calculated to live in perfect harmony with its host and not at all likely to be the cause of serious injury or disease."

Primrose, in an interesting article, states "that the victims of filarial infections do not necessarily suffer inconvenience from the presence of the worm or its embryos. In fact, it would appear to be the exception for pathological lesions to manifest themselves in persons thus infected." My own experience, as the result of many hundred examinations, coincides with this, and it is unnecessary to labour this point—we may take it as undisputed.

Now if we have a disease, the alleged causal agent of which is in the great majority of instances harmless, if the presence of the F. bancrofti in the lymphatics and the embryos in the blood is not necessarily productive of disease—if, in addition to this, we find exactly similar diseases with the same clinical phenomena occurring in non-tropical countries where filariasis can be excluded with certainty, it is evident that, to carry conviction, the actual association of the parasite with the given disease must be of the clearest and most definite description, and must be brought out in a manner to admit of no possible doubt Under such conditions mere inference is a somewhat uncertain prop to lean upon.

Now in order to get over the diflficulty of the parasite under ordinary conditions, which, it is evident, is in the minds of most observers who have written on the subject, we must assume that some change takes place in the parasite or in the individual, something must be added by means of which the parasite acquires pathogenic properties, and various theories have been brought forward, the principal of which I may mention:—

1. That some filarial diseases, such as abscess and lymphangitis are due to death of the parent worm.

2. That elephantiasis and chyluria are due to impaction of the parent worm in some part of the lymphatic system—in other words, that it is merely a mechanical obstruction. It has been further suggested that the impaction of the worm produces haemorrhage and consequent organisation of the clot, with narrowing of the lymph trunk.

3. This suggestion carries the great authority of Sir P. Manson, and has been put forward in a very convincing manner: that elephantiasis takes place as the result of obstruction of the lymphatics from the impaction in the afferent lymph vessels of a gland, of the immature ova from an aborting female. But in addition to this lymphangitis must occur. Let us briefly consider these theories seriatim:

1. That certain filarial diseases—abscess and lymphangitis —are due to the death of the parent worm. Now, of course, the presence of a foreign substance in the human body will not necessarily produce inflammatory action, it must become septic, and we must at once admit the possibility of an adult worm becoming affected with a streptococcus and thus produce an abscess and secondary lymphangitis, though the streptococcus might produce it without the dead worm. But there is a point that does not appear to have been sufficiently considered, and that is, that in a population with a general degree of filarial infection, death in the adult worm must be constantly taking place, unless we are to assume that once the worm is in the body its life is limited only by the life of the individual. Given a definite infection of, say, 25 per cent, in a population, and a definite life-history of the worm, death must be constantly occurring at about the same rate, viz., 25 per cent., and we should expect a similar proportion of "filarial abscesses" to occur. But I am unable to find any evidence of this. Glandular and lymphatic abscesses are undoubtedly more common in natives of tropical countries (not, I believe, among Europeans), and for the same reason that ulcers are more common, there is more opportunity of streptococcal infection. Natives go about bare-footed; wounds and abrasions are more common—these are not attended to — their habits are not always cleanly, and we have the natural result of a septic infection. It is very rare to find a native without traces of scars on the legs.

The literature of filarial abscess is not plentiful, though there are frequent references in several papers, but I have found an interesting paper by Dr. Preston Maxwell, on which I should like to say a few words. Dr. Maxwell attributes his cases to death of the parent worm, and gives a table showing twenty-three cases of abscess, which he calls filarial, and the only evidence which I can find is the presence of embryos in the blood, which is no proof at all in a highly-infected community, as it would be necessary to show that abscess occurred more frequently among infected individuals than among the general community. In only one case out of the twenty-three was the remains of a worm found, though a careful search was made—surely a very low proportion. It is difficult to believe that disintegration and absorption can take place so rapidly in an acute filarial abscess as to leave no trace in a few days.

In lymphangitis, again, it is difficult to understand the mechanism. Dr. Low {Journal of Tropical Medicine, August 15, 1902) says " the onset of an attack of filarial lymphangitis may be provoked, especially in old eases of filarial disease, by any trivial scratch or abrasion, etc." But that is surely a very frequent history of any attack of lymphangitis; it simply means that a source of streptococcal infection had been provided, and unless it is suggested that the presence of F. nocturna produces some change in the human body, say, by altering the opsonic index, so as to predispose to streptococcal infection, it is difficult to understand what the influence of the filaria is. This is a point which is worthy of investigation. I must confess, then, to a feeling that the proof of the connection of lymphangitis, abscess, and filariasis is not of a very convincing description.

2. The second suggestion is that elephantiasis and chyluria are due to impaction of the parent worm in some part of the lymphatic system—that there is a mechanical obstruction. So far as elephantiasis is concerned, I do not think that this is now seriously urged. It is certainly difficult to understand how a single live worm of the calibre of the F. bancrofti could produce such total obstruction as to lead to almost complete stasis of the lymph stream. I can understand a dead worm producing a blocking in the main lymphatic trunk in the following way: If we watch a piece of thread floating along a sluggish stream, it will remain extended until the anterior end meets some obstacle; the pressure of the water makes it fold on itself, and this process may be repeated until the thread is twisted up. And so with a dead filaria. Losing the power of anchoring itself, which it must have, it drifts along the lymph stream, in some main trunk, until it meets with some narrowing or kink, when it may fold up again and again, with the ever-increasing pressure behind it. But unless this occurred in the thoracic duct, it could not interfere extensively with the general lymphatic circulation.

I show here an illustration of the lymphatics of the lower limb, not, I may say, with any wish to teach the anatomy of the lymphatic system, but simply to illustrate my points, and I am sure you will agree with me that it is very difficult to see how any one worm can produce a complete obstruction of any given lymphatic area.

Chyluria is, however, a disease which is distinctly claimed as being produced by obstruction of the thoracic duct by filaria, and I believe the case upon which this opinion is founded is the classical one of Sir Stephen Mackenzie's, which was published in 1882, upon which I should like to say a few words. I do not wish to take up your time by going into details of this case, but, briefly, it was a case where there was chyluria, with the presence of embryo nocturna in the blood and urine. Subsequently the embryos disappeared from the blood, and the chyluria improved. Then an abscess formed in the upper part of the chest, and, concurrently, there developed a lung affection, which was shown at the post-mortem to be pleurisy and empyema. From this the patient died. At the post-mortem there was marked inflammatory changes at the upper part of the thoracic duct, with occlusion. There was no trace of an adult worm having caused the obstruction. To my mind, on reading the case very carefully, there is no evidence that the obstruction was caused by F. bancrofti, the presence of the embryos merely showing the presence of an adult somewhere, and it is important to note that though the chyluria improved before death, a very marked obstruction was found.

I have been unable to And any case where chyluria has been shown to be coincident with the presence of an adult worm in the thoracic duct.

We must remember that chyluria is not a common disease in tropical countries where filariasis is common. In West Africa, where it has been shown that a high degree of filarial infection exists, I have not seen a single case in eighteen years, and have only heard of one. In Fiji, where a high degree of filarial infection also exists, Finucane states that chyluria is rare, and in other tropical countries the same may be said.

Chyluria occurs in temperate countries, but here also is rare. Osier describes a case of well-marked chyluria in which he was able to make a thorough dissection of the thoracic lymph vessels, which were perfectly normal, and adds that the pathology of the condition is unknown. We are, then, in this position, so far as chyluria is concerned, that it may exist without obstruction of the thoracic duct, and with obstruction of the thoracic duct, but I do not think that until we have more evidence of the presence of an adult worm in the obstruction, we are justified in definitely stating that this is one of the diseases which is due to F. bancrofti.

Another suggestion is that the obstruction of the thoracic duct may be produced by haemorrhage caused by the worm, as evidence has been found of an organised coagulum in the duct. Here, again, this is mere speculation, and, as a matter of fact, it is a very difficult matter to distinguish between the results of organised clot and the fibrosis of inflammatory action. In any case, we should also have to explain why the worm causes haemorrhage in some cases and not in others.

In connection with obstruction of the thoracic duct I should like to show here a case for which I am indebted to the kindness of Dr. Bernstein, as it illustrates the effect of obstruction in a certain position. You will see that it has the appearance of a typical case of elephantiasis of both legs, and in a tropical country would have been accepted as a case of filarial elephantiasis, and the fact that no filaria were found in the blood would have been cited as a proof that it was caused by F. bancrofti, and that the obstruction had shut off the embryos from the blood-stream. But this case occurred in a country where the possibility of filarial infection was definitely excluded, and the obstruction was found to be due to a fibrosis of the lower part of the thoracic duct. The following extracts from the post-mortem will be of interest—

"The lower extremities and abdominal wall below the umbilicus were the seat of brawny oedema. . . . The receptaculum chyli and the origin of the thoracic duct were involved in an extensive pre-vertebral fibrosis, whilst from the first lumbar vertebra that duct was dilated to the size of a quill pen, until its entrance into the subclavian vein. The inferior vena cava and aorta did not appear to be constricted by the fibrosis, nor did the larger vessels in the groins. The fibrosis in the neighbourhood of the receptaculum chyli contained some lymph glands, with well-marked, dilated varicose spaces lined with endothelium, and evidently lymph channels, similar channels appearing in the fibrous and adipose tissue round the glands. The enlarged, soft inguinal glands showed similar dilatation of the channels, together with some thickening of the fibious trabeculse. . .

"The morbid appearances may be summarised as follows : Chronic peritonitis, with especially prominent perihepatitis, perisplenitis, and pre-vertebral fibrosis surrounding the lymphatics about the level of the receptaculum chyli. Anatomically the condition is explainable on the view that the fibrosis had interfered with the lymphatic course at about the level of the receptaculum chyli. Below this a varicose condition of all the lymphatics and an cedematous and hyperplastic condition of the parts drained by the affected vessels, but not of the mesenteric lymphatics or lacteals."

This case is interesting as illustrating several points : first, the situation of the obstruction in a case of double elephantiasis; second, that in this situation the oedema and hyperplasia involved the abdominal wall; and, thirdly, that a condition indistinguishable from Tropical Elephantiasis can be produced without recurring attacks of lymphangitis.

3. We now come to the third suggestion, which is that elephantiasis is due to the adult female aborting, from injury or otherwise, to the discharge of the immature ova into the lymph-stream, to their impaction in the vessels leading to the lymph glands, and to the complete obstruction, with its resulting lymph stasis, which ensues. In addition to this, it is maintained that lymph stasis alone does not produce elephantiasis—some injury in the area of lymphatic construction must take place; lymphangitis ensues, the inflammatory products cannot be completely absorbed owing to the stasis, and elephantiasis results. It is, therefore, recognised that an erysipelatoid inflammation frequently recurring is an essential feature in the production of elephantiasis arabum. This theory, then, takes up a somewhat different standpoint. In those we have already considered the adult worm is said to be situated in the proximal end of the lymphatics; in the present case it is situated in the peripheral part, and the obstruction is produced between the worm and the thoracic duct. It is, as you will realise, an absolutely different point of view.

Now, the possibility or even probability of the adult female filaria aborting occasionally, as other females do, especially if it is injured, must be admitted, and in that case the immature ova would be discharged into the lymph- stream, and they have been identified more than once by Sir P. Manson. That this does occur, and that the occasional blocking of some of the afferent vessels of a lymph gland may take place, must also be admitted. But when I come to examine the distribution of the lymphatics in the different situations in which elephantiasis occurs, I find a difficulty, from a mechanical point of view alone, of explaining how the obstruction which is necessary to produce a complete lymph stasis can occur. Looking again at the illustration of the superficial lymphatics of the leg, at what point in the limb can a single worm be situated so that the lymph-stream would carry the ova so as to obstruct the whole of the superficial inguinal glands? Or if the worm were situated in the deep lymphatic trunks which accompany the lymphatics, they would only obstruct the deep inguinal glands, which are small and unimportant, as there is not a free anastomosis between the superficial and deep lymphatics, and we should still have the superficial lymph circulation going on freely.

Or, looking at an elephantiasis of the scrotum, in what situation does the worm lie so as to block up the superficial inguinal glands which command that lymphatic area? The worm must be in such a position that it will command both right and left sets of lymphatic vessels, for it is necessary to assume the blocking of both sets of inguinal glands. Elephantiasis of the scrotum is almost always symmetrical, and it is important to note that in elephantiasis of the scrotum alone, the blocking must be limited strictly to that area, as is shown by the fact that the skin uniting it to the abdomen is generally healthy. If that skin is involved, we know that the blocking must be above the glands, as described in the first case.

Or, again, take the case of localized elephantiasis of the arm which I have shown. Where can the worm be situated peripherally in the scheme of the lymphatics, so as to produce this localized infiltration and hyperplasia?

It is unnecessary for me to illustrate separately every situation in which elephantiasis occurs, but you will find that the same objection holds good.

I must confess, then, that to me this mechanical difficulty seems to form a great obstacle in the acceptance of this theory as an explanation of the production of elephantiasis.

Then there is another difficulty. In cases where we have multiple elephantiasis, for example the scrotum, one leg, and one arm, we must assume three adult females, all injured and all aborting. It seems to me that here it would be more reasonable either to assume an obstruction of some of the main lymphatics in the abdomen, or else, as I shall suggest presently, some common cause of peripheral origin.

It will be convenient here to consider briefly the absence of filarial embryos in the blood, which is associated with this theory. In a number of cases of elephantiasis an examination of the blood shows the absence of filarial embryos, and it is explained that this is due to the blocking of the lymphatics, the embryos being unable to gain the main lymph stream and thus enter the blood; while the presence of embryos in some cases is got over by suggesting that they are derived from a reinfection. In the first place, this assumes an absolutely impervious obstruction, for, of course, as the embryos can pass through the smallest blood capillaries, they can do so through the smallest lymph capillaries. I think I have shown how very difficult it is to understand how such a complete obstruction as is required can take place.

Then we must remember that in a population which is infected to a greater or less degree by F. nocturna, any disease, whether it be pneumonia or Bright's disease, or eczema or elephantiasis, ought to show an amount of filarial infection equivalent to the general infection of the population. In other words, if there is an infection of 25 per cent, in the general population and 75 per cent, uninfected, we would expect to find at least 75 per cent, uninfected in any given disease. Now, I do not think that it has been conclusively shown that the proportion of uninfected cases in elephantiasis is greatly out of proportion to the uninfected in the general population; we would require to examine a very large number of cases in a district, which has not hitherto been done. The only figures which I have been able to find are those given by Dr. Low, and these vary with the general infection of the population, though at a somewhat lower level. He gives the following results:—


Cases of


Percentage of
Infected in Cases of

St. Kitts 32.8 14 3 21.0
British Guiana 16.6 15 1 6.6
Barbados 12.66 10 0 0.0
Trinidad 10.75 83 0 0.0
Dominica 7.63 2 0 0.0
St. Lucia 7.58 5 0 0.0
St. Vincent 6.0 2 0 0.0

These so far are hardly conclusive one way or the other, and a larger number of observations is required.

Now the question comes to be, Is there any other explanation which will fit into the facts, and will account for the production of tropical elephantiasis, without the necessity of assuming an obstruction by means of filaria? I think that there is. In most of the suggestions, it will have been observed that the explanations generally include some form of inflammatory action, and chiefly lymphangitis, and it is in this direction that I venture to think the solution should be sought. Radclifle Crocker, in discussing the pathology of elephantiasis, both sporadic and endemic, says: “The disease is consequent upon an occlusion of the lymphatic channels of the part affected, independent of the cause and nature of the obstruction, and whether it is at the trunk or periphery of the lymphatic circulation.” I have described one case where obstruction in a main trunk, a pre-vertebral fibrosis, caused extensive elephantiasis, and no doubt similar cases may occasionally be found in the Tropics. But I am inclined to believe that the vast majority of cases of elephantiasis in the Tropics is of peripheral origin, and is due to a lymphangitis arising peripherally, caused by the introduction of a specific micro-organism, and resulting in the gradual narrowing and obstruction of the peripheral lymph vessels. Radcliffe Crocker points out that in a temperate climate erysipelas, either as a severe or diffuse cellulitis or from repeated attacks, is one of the most common causes of lymphatic obstruction. Sabouraud examined and cultivated the serum in a case of elephantiasis, and invariably found the streptococci of erysipelas, but the cultures in the intervals remained sterile. Phlegmasia dolens is another disease which may occlude the lymphatics and lead to attacks of elephantiasis, and repeated attacks of eczema are responsible for a certain number, though these are seldom extreme instances of the affection. In this form the peripheral lymphatics must be the first to be affected.

And in the Tropics, where all forms of microbic life flourish so luxuriantly, where people go about bare-footed and bare-legged, where abrasions and injuries of exposed parts are of daily occurrence, where there is a frequent lack of cleanliness, surely there is ample opportunity for the entrance of pathogenic organisms and resulting attacks of lymphangitis, thickening of the lymph channels, and eventual obstruction. Would a peripheral lymphangitis of the scrotum not account sufficiently for a localized symmetrical elephantiasis with healthy skin uniting it to the body? And would not the presence of a similar lymphangitis account for the formation of the localized elephantiasis of the arm which I showed you? In many cases they seem to me to be so strictly limited to a given lymphatic area as to preclude the possibility of a proximal obstruction, but to be perfectly explicable on the theory of a peripheral infection by a specific micro-organism gradually spreading up the lymphatics.

I then venture with all humility to suggest that research should take this direction, and that during the attacks of elephantoid fever an attempt should be made to examine the serum and to cultivate it, and I shall look forward to the time when some skilled observer demonstrates the presence of some specific organism.

I have thus tried, very imperfectly, I am aware, to review the present state of our knowledge as to the relationship between filariasis and disease, but, of course, it has been impossible for me to consider all the arguments for and against within the limits of this paper. And while I do not take up the extreme position of denying the possibility of F. bancrofti being at times the cause of lymphatic obstruction and its results, I venture to think that I have at least made out a case for the Scotch verdict of "Not proven," and a plea for further research in the direction I have indicated.


Dr. Low, in opening the discussion, said that one could agree with most of the statements in the first part of the paper, especially with the view that craw-craw was not due to filaria, and was not a specific disease. In Africa he had seen many skin affections which were called craw-craw, but they were nothing but scabies, or some other common skin disease. Coining to the question of Filaria nocturna, the author had adopted an attitude of scepticism as to the claim that filaria was the cause of elephantiasis and other diseases usually associated with its presence. Dr. Prout stated: "I propose, then, for the sake of argument, to assume that elephantiasis is not due to filaria, to criticise as impartially as possible the various suggestions put forward, to examine the possible mechanism of its production, and to see whether, if possible, there is not another explanation which would account for the production of this and other so-called filarial diseases." In the adverse criticism of a theory, one expects at least an equally good explanation to be put forward ; but that had not been done, and on examining the paper one found that Dr. Prout went no further than to say that these diseases might be due to something else ; there was no definite suggestion substituted for the filarial hypothesis. Dr. Prout further stated : " The coincidence between the geographical distri- bution of endemic elephantiasis and F. hancrofti is claimed as being one of the most important proofs of the connection between the two, and it is maintained that where F. nocturna is common, there elephantiasis is common, and vice versa. Now, the coincidence of the geographical distribu- tion of elephantiasis and F. nocturiia simply means that both are found universally over the Tropics." He disagreed entirely with the latter part of that statement. The author, apparently, had worked only, or chiefly, in Sierra Leone, and had not examined similar conditions in other parts of the world. Personally, he knew of places in the Tropics where there were practically no filariae. For instance, in the denizens of the forests of British Guiana no F. nocturna was found — at least, he had never found that infection, and Dr. Daniel's experience was the same. He had made many hundreds of blood examinations of Waganda — the natives of Uganda proper — but he never found F. nocturna. So that there were at least two places in the tropical world where F. nocturna was non-existent. And if natives of those two districts were collectively examined, it would be found that neither elephantiasis nor any of the other filarial diseases occurred there. He had seen elephantiasis in Entebbe, but the people who suffered from the disease were not indigenous, they were natives of the Soudan, in whom F. nocturna was common. One of the most important premisses on which the author's con- clusions were based thus fell to the ground. The next point to which he desired to refer was the statement that the F. sanguinis hominis was compatible with the perfect health of its host, one of the older observations of Sir Patrick Manson, whom the author had quoted. He (Dr. Low) was by no means satisfied that an infection of F. noctuma was compatible with health in the human subject. For example, filarial embryos might be found in the blood of a patient who had no symptoms and who seemed to be perfectly well, but the future history of the case was the important point. When Dr. Prout read his paper, Dr. Branch recalled the fact that when he (Dr. Low) was in St. Vincent, he had found F. nocturna blood films from two of the nurses at the Colonial Hospital : now he could state that, about five years afterwards, both those women developed elephantiasis. The cases were then entered in his book as " symptoms nil," now they both had elephantiasis. He believed that disease depended on the number of filarise present in individual lymphatics. Then the author had quoted Primrose, who, so far as he remembered, had reported a Barbadian case of filariasis in Canada. Primrose's words were : " It would appear to be the exception for patholo- gical lesions to manifest themselves in persons thus infected," but who his authority for this assumption was he did not say. In the speaker's own paper he had quoted St. Kitts, where 32 per cent, of the people were infected with filaria, and where there was an enormous amount of elephantiasis, chyluria, varicose glands, and filarial abscesses. He had clearly proved that where there was a hicrh endemic index of infection many cases of filarial disease were seen. They had to be carefully looked for, but they were there. For example, in Barbados, the local doctors, knowing he was interested in the subject, often showed him private eases of elephantiasis in whites ; in this way he had seen many manifestations of the disease, which the ordinary individual would have missed. An erroneous impression prevailed that white people did not suffer from elephantiasis, but if one went behind the scenes it would be found that it was common in both races. Leaving the geographical question out of consideration, he desired to pass to one clear point the author had made, namely, that we do not know the exact mechanism and action of F. hancrofti in producing elephantiasis and other diseases. Unfortunately, post-mortems were difficult to get, especially at the stage when one would most like them — viz., after the first attack of filarial lymphangitis — for by careful inspection it might then be possible to ascertain where the parent filar ia was lying and in what way it caused obstruction. But, speaking pathologically, it was exceed- ingly difficult to explain how the filaria came to block the lymphatics. The author, and those who denied the existence of the filaria as a cause of elephantiasis, adduced cases of the disease seen at home. He had seen several such instances himself. The first case of elephantiasis he had ever seen was in a woman who lived in Vienna, and who had suffered from chronic eczema. Another was that of a city watchmaker treated at the Tropical School, who had never been out of London ; and the author quoted a case of double elephantiasis of the legs seen in London. He did not see that these cases invalidated the theory that the filaria was the chief cause of similar conditions in the Tropics. It was agreed that gonorrhoea caused 90 per cent, of all cases of stricture of the urethra ; but, on the other hand, such a condition might be due to traumatism and other causes. In the same way stenosis of the trachea might be caused by aneurism or other lesions ; and it stood to reason that it was the same with filarial infection. Any condition which blocked the thoracic duct, such as a tumour pressing on it, might easily produce the necessary stenosis. And regarding the distribution of elephantiasis, it was manifest that the filaria was at least one of the causes which produced the condition. For example, elephantiasis was exceedingly rare at home ; one might see two or three cases in a lifetime ; but if one went to a place where F. nocturna was common, probably twenty or thirty cases would be seen in a day. The author had said that it was diflScult to understand how a single live worm could produce such complete obstruction as to lead to stasis of the lymph stream. Why only one worm ? As a matter of fact, in those cases which had been dissected masses of worms, not lying in the long axis of the lymphatic, but inextricably coiled up together, had been found. Given, however, stenosis of a lymphatic, it did not follow thaft elephantiasis, or even swelling of a limb, would follow. Inflammatory conditions must be superadded, and he agreed with the author when he stated that those inflammatory conditions might be produced by a streptococcus. It was known that a streptococcus played an important part in the production of the inflammation. The first step was lymphangitis attacks, like erysipelas, which, unlike that condition, were not infectious, but which in other respects were exactly like a streptococcus infection. The cases most difficult of explanation were those in which there was a localised blocking of one limb, say, a hand, or a wrist, or a foot, or an ankle, or, as the author stated, the scrotum, in which both sets of inguinal lymphatics must be blocked. It was impossible to get absolute proof of the mechanism without more post-mortem examinations ; but he thought most medical men were agreed that filaria was a cause of these conditions. Embryos of filaria were always found in varicose glands and in tropical chyluria, and the association was evident. Admitting certain points which had been made, he did not think the author had brought forward anything that was conclusive or definite. Dr. Prout criticised all our present ideas, but presented no alternative explanation except that of the streptococcus, and everyone agreed that the streptococcus played a part in the production of elephantiasis. Mr. J. Cantlie said he had no idea that he was to be called on to speak, and his knowledge of the subject was limited. The remark that Dr. Low made about not finding cases of elephantiasis in the street was true in all parts of the world. He remembered, after he had been in Hong Kong for five years, writing an article in which he mentioned that he had never seen a case of ovarian tumour in a Chinese woman, or elephantiasis in a man. He had only just written the paper when a man with a very large scrotum applied for treatment, having travelled 1200 or 1500 miles through the country to come to the hospital. The scrotum was removed, and the man went back again, showing himself to all the people on the way, and telling them he had been cured of his tumour, which weighed, on removal, about 49 lb. After that he (Mr. Cantlie) began to think that the majority of the men on the road along which that patient had travelled suffered from elephantiasis of the scrotum, judging by the number of patients who came for treatment ; at least, that appeared to be the case. The surgical aspect of filariasis did not perhaps bear upon the question very closely, but he thought one point had scientific importance, namely, that the situation of the parent worm, or the obstruction, was always proximal to the elephantiasis to which it had given rise. If there was an enlarged filarial gland in the groin the worms laj'- ujjon the proximal side. The question arose. Would the disease from which the patient was suffering be benefited by removal of the glands ? Various cases were reported in which operations had been undertaken for the removal of filarial glands in the groin, notably some cases by Colonel Maitland, of Madras, and the result was that not only were the enlarged glands removed, but the filariae disappeared from the patient's blood. What was to be done in the case of a huge lower extremity ? If the leg were amputated, would the disease be cured ? If the removal of the glands in the groin cured the systemic disease in Colonel Maitland's cases, would the removal of the lower limb in elephantiasis do the same thincr ? Colonel Maitland's cases were well known and they deserved careful consideration, from a surgical point of view, as a method of cure. With regard to the length of time that a man might have filariae in the blood and not develop elephantiasis, he knew of a case in London which the Chairman had also seen, in which the patient had had filarial worms in his blood for twenty-two years, and still had no sign of elephantiasis' yet in all probability he would eventually get the disease. The man was born in the Straits Settlements, and possibly had tilariae in his blood from childhood ; but that case did not prove that elephantiasis had nothing to do with filaria. According to the theory of Sir Patrick Manson, if the parent worm were uninjured, elephantiasis would not result ; it was only when the channels were blocked up that elephantiasis ensued. In this case no injury had occurred, and therefore the parent worm had not aborted and blocked the parts. Filarial infection might be present without the patient or physician knowing it. It might show itself as a tumour or an abscess in any organ of the body, or in a hydrocele, or in chyluria, or in enlarged glands. He remembered visiting a man who had swollen glands in the groin, a plague tongue, with a high temperature, and who was delirious ; there was plague in the house. The man was sent to the plague hospital, where he passed urine which was examined under the miscroscope. It was then ascertained that the man had chyluria, and was suffering from filarial fever with enlarged glands.

Fleet-Surgeon Bassett - Smith described a case of scrotal disease in a marine. He believed it to be syphilitic, but in every way it closely resembled elephantiasis, and the diagnosis was doubtful, as the man had been for so n:e time in China. Dr. Carnegie Brown thought that, although the majority of the Fellows would disagree in toto with the author in most of his conclusions, yet they would all admit that the discussion had prominent advantages. In a science which moved so fast as tropical medicine it was wholesome to have a periodical stocktaking of our knowledge on any given subject, and when one advanced a theory which ran contrary to generally-accepted ideas the review was all the more likely to be of a vigorous and radical character. He thought, too, the author was right in depending largely upon his own experience ; that, after all, was the most valuable quarry from which they could dig out their facts, and most of them would rely on their own experience rather than on that of others. But he certainly could not support him in so completely disregarding recorded experience as to ignore what had been already proved. The author had also, he thought, neglected to emphasise the difference between elephantoid disease and elephantiasis. Dr. Low had somewhat minimised that point too, but still it seemed to be a very important one, for it contained the kernel of the whole matter under discussion. In elephantoid disease — by which, of course, he meant lymph scrotum, lymph varix, chyluria and other similar disorders — it must be held as proved that all the lesions were as certainly due to filarial infection as that malaria was due to infection by the malarial parasite. The author demurred to this on the ground that none of Koch's postulates had been satisfied in the case of elephantiasis and chyluria, but if they asked for Koch's postulates to be confirmed, when metazoal pathogenicity was concerned, they could never hope to have any definite proof of the origin of this class of disease. Chyluria was of three kinds : one, which occurred both at home and in the tropics, was termed idiopathic, and it was so-called because physicians applied the name to a disease when they could not explain its origin ; the second variety Page:Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, volume 1.djvu/209 Page:Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, volume 1.djvu/210 Page:Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, volume 1.djvu/211 Page:Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, volume 1.djvu/212 Page:Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, volume 1.djvu/213 Page:Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, volume 1.djvu/214 Page:Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, volume 1.djvu/215 Page:Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, volume 1.djvu/216 Page:Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, volume 1.djvu/217 Page:Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, volume 1.djvu/218 Page:Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, volume 1.djvu/219 Page:Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, volume 1.djvu/220 recently, in the Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene for April 15, Dr. Wellman, of Angola, expresses his disbelief in the filarial hypothesis of elephantiasis, founding his scepticism on his personal experience to the effect that elephantiasis is not uncommon in his district, but he failed to find filariae in 500 slides of night blood from as many individuals of the same locality. If this correctly represents the facts, then the filarial doctrine of elephantiasis falls to the ground, but before this can be allowed, further statement of the facts of the method of investigation Dr. Wellman employed, of the localities which had been visited by his cases of elephantiasis, and so forth, must be submitted.