updated 4/1/2008 12:54:10 PM ET 2008-04-01T16:54:10

The World Health Organization predicted on Tuesday a devastating parasitic infection known as elephantiasis will be eliminated by 2015.

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Mosquito-borne lymphatic filariasis, which inflames the legs, arms, breasts and genitals, could be the second disease to be wiped out, Dr. Lorenzo Savioli, director of WHO's Department of Neglected Tropical Diseases, told a medical conference in Tanzania. So far, global efforts to eliminate disease have succeeded only with smallpox.

Elephantiasis, which swells body parts to several times their normal size, is caused by threadlike parasitic worms that damage the human lymphatic system. It is usually contracted in childhood, often before the age of five.

Dr. Mwele Malecela, president of a global alliance to eliminate elephantiasis, said over a billion treatments have been administered to more than 440 million people in 44 countries since operations began eight years ago. Malecela said Africa was lagging behind other continents in efforts to eradicate the disease, which has crippled or disfigured more than 40 million people.

"Many African countries neglected LF because it was not deadly," she said.

According to WHO estimates, about 1.3 billion people in Africa, Asia and Latin America are at risk of elephantiasis and 120 million were suffering from it.

Pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline and Merck & Co. Inc. pledged to continue to help WHO supply free drugs for treatment.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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