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Chemotherapy in the treatment, control, and elimination of human onchocerciasis

Authors Higazi T, Geary T, MacKenzie C

Received 4 August 2014

Accepted for publication 27 August 2014

Published 21 October 2014 Volume 2014:5 Pages 77—93


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Dr Thomas Unnasch

Tarig B Higazi,1 Timothy G Geary,2 Charles D Mackenzie3,4

1Department of Biological Sciences, Ohio University Zanesville, Zanesville, OH, USA; 2Institute of Parasitology, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada; 3Center for Neglected Tropical Diseases, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Liverpool, UK; 4Department of Pathobiology & Diagnostic Investigation, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA

Abstract: Onchocerciasis treatment is one of the most positive stories in tropical medicine although major challenges remain to reaching the ultimate goal of disease elimination. Such challenges are to be expected when the therapeutic goal is to kill and safely remove a large multistage, efficient, metazoan infectious agent such as Onchocerca volvulus that has an exceptionally complicated relationship with its host. Successful control of onchocerciasis has often been hampered by host reactions following chemotherapy, that can sometimes cause significant tissue pathology. Presence of other filariae, particularly Loa loa, in endemic onchocerciasis-treatment areas also poses severe problems due to adverse reactions caused by drug-induced death of the coincident microfilariae of this usually clinically benign species. Although ivermectin has been very successful, there is a need to enhance the progress toward elimination of onchocerciasis; new drugs and their efficient use are keys to this. The permanent absence of Onchocerca microfilaridermia, defined as the lack of resurgence of skin microfilarial loads after treatment, is the ultimate characteristic of a useful new chemotherapeutic agent. Several drugs are under investigation to achieve this, including the reassessment of currently available and previously tested agents, such as the antibiotic, doxycycline, which targets the adult parasites through its anti-Wolbachia endosymbiont activity. Flubendazole, a benzimidazole derivative approved for treatment of human gastrointestinal nematodes, is also being considered for repurposing as a macrofilaricide to aid in the achievement of eradication. The managerial challenges existing at the population level also need to be addressed; these include drug-distribution fatigue, the need to include noncompliant people, civil unrest in endemic areas, political cross-border issues, restrictions of age and pregnancy, and complications due to integration with other treatment programs. It is likely that a panel of chemotherapeutic options, new and old, supported by strong and effective distribution systems will be the best way to address challenges of treatment and elimination of this infection. Future research should also address management of treatment and control, and consider how new treatment paradigms can be incorporated to meet time lines set for global elimination by 2025.

Keywords: mass drug administration, ivermectin, macrofilaricides, challenges

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