Podoconiosis (podoconiosis is pronounced ‘poh-doh-koh-nee-oh-sis’) is a type of elephantiasis (swelling of the limbs) that is common in highland Ethiopia (woina dega or dega) in areas of red clay soil, usually at high altitudes. There is a great deal of misunderstanding about the disease in affected communities. Some people think it is caused by treading on a snake or frog, others that it is a curse or form of punishment. In reality, podoconiosis (Figure 39.15) is a reaction in the body to very small soil particles that have passed through the skin of the feet. The swelling begins in the feet and progresses up the legs, and both feet are usually affected.
Unlike other types of elephantiasis, podoconiosis is not caused by any bacteria, viruses or parasites. It cannot be transmitted between people, so close contact with someone who has podoconiosis is totally safe. You may wonder why you are learning about it in a Module on Communicable Diseases; there are two reasons. First, severe podoconiosis looks a lot like lymphatic filariasis, which you learned about in Study Session 37. It is important to know the difference between these diseases because there are differences in their treatment. Second, how you teach patients to reduce the disability due to podoconiosis is exactly the same as the methods you have already learned about for lymphatic filariasis.