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Elephant Foot Bug Widespread: Riau, Sumatra

A mosquito-borne disease known as kaki gajah or elephant foot is ballooning out of control in Riau, according to health officials. The spacious peatland, rain forests and palm oil plantations in the province are safe havens for mosquitoes which transmit the tropical foot abscess disease filariasis, in addition to dengue and malaria. According to a recent survey, of eleven regencies, only Kampar and Rokan Hulu remain free of filariasis.

“Riau has become an endemic area for the disease. Thousands of people have been infected, Burhanuddin Agung, head of the provincial health office said, according to Rizal Harahap.

He said health authorities were actively preparing large-scale chemical spraying (fogging) campaigns to control the disease. He referred to 288 intensive care or surgery cases at Pekanbaru General Hospital.

“Worst infected is Indragiri Hulu with 400 cases sufferers in Kota Lama village, West Rengat,” he said.

The survey was based on blood samples from people in each of the regencies. Where the microfilaria count was above 1 percent, the person was considered infected.

The bacteria is usually transferred by mosquitoes, of which Riau has 23 species. They thrive in bogs, woods and plantations, said Burhanuddin.

If the disease isn’t stopped, in advanced stages it can cause physical paralysis requiring surgery.

Early symptoms include a high fever which recurs for about three days each month, red lines on swollen legs and feet and abscess on the feet.

“This disease can attack anyone, no matter their age or health condition,” said Burhanuddin.

There were two drugs, however, he said, that could be used to deal with the disease in a preventive manner. They are taken once a year and provide ongoing microfilaria resistance.

Separately, Helmi Manaf, head of the health office in Indragiri Hulu health office, confirmed the outbreak of the disease there as well as fogging campaigns.

He said his office has distributed more than 2,000 anti-filaria pills to villagers and was promoting environment clean-up measures.

“Massive fogging has become a top priority to curb the spread of dengue fever, malaria and the kaki gajah disease, which are transferred by mosquitoes,” he said.