An additional six cases of filariasis have been confirmed among migrant workers in Kulhudhuffushi City, bringing the total number of recorded infections to 25, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has revealed. The new cases were identified during the ongoing health screening programme undertaken by the special task force that was set up following the detection of the disease, which had previously been eradicated in the Maldives.

Filariasis cases were first detected during a comprehensive health screening programme held from 1 to 19 December in Kulhudhuffushi City, coinciding with World AIDS Day.

A total of 434 individuals have so far been screened under the programme, of which 25 have been tested positive for filariasis, the HPA said. The agency is intensifying efforts to screen more individuals and provide immediate treatment to those who have tested positive. The disease is primarily detected among migrant workers who recently arrived from regions where filariasis remains endemic, the agency said.

Filariasis, a parasitic disease caused by microscopic, thread-like worms known as filarial worms, infects the host’s lymphatic system, leading to various symptoms and complications. The disease is primarily spread by the Culex mosquito, which breeds in dirty water, a species distinct from the Aedes mosquito responsible for spreading chikungunya and dengue.

Individuals infected with filariasis may initially remain asymptomatic. However, as the disease progresses, symptoms such as headaches, chills, fever, body aches, swollen lymph nodes, oedema in the arms or legs, inflammation of the genitalia, larvae in the eye, and skin rashes may manifest. Over time, the damage to the lymphatic system can lead to chronic conditions such as lymphedema or elephantiasis.

If left untreated, filariasis can result in severe complications, including elephantiasis, hydrocele, kidney damage, and extensive damage to the lymphatic system. In extreme cases, it can cause disfigurement, characterised by thickening skin and swelling in the calves.

The first survey to find out the prevalence of filariasis was conducted in the Maldives in 1951 with the assistance of the World Health Organization (WHO), with cases found on 34 islands. The government commenced a special programme to eradicate the disease in 1968. The last reported case of filariasis in the Maldives was in 2004 on Fonadhoo Island, Laamu Atoll. After comprehensive surveys and a WHO evaluation in 2011, the Maldives was declared free of filariasis in 2016.