Ocular onchocerciasis: current management and future prospects
Olufemi Emmanuel Babalola
Department of Ophthalmological Surgery, Bingham University Teaching Hospital, New Karu, Nassarawa State, Nigeria
Abstract: This paper reviews the current management of onchocerciasis and its future prospects. Onchocerciasis is a disease affecting millions of people in Africa, South and Central America, and Yemen. It is spread by the blackfly as a vector and caused by the filarial nematode, Onchocerca volvulus. A serious attempt was made by the Onchocerciasis Control Program between 1975 and 2002 to eliminate the vector in eleven of the endemic countries in West Africa, and with remarkable success. Formerly, the treatment was with diethyl carbamazine for the microfilaria and suramin for the adult worm. These drugs are now known to be toxic and unsuitable for mass distribution. In particular, they precipitate optic nerve disease. With the discovery of ivermectin, a much safer microfilaricide, and the decision of Merck to distribute the drug free of charge for as long as needed, the strategy of control switched to mass drug administration through community-directed treatment with ivermectin. So far, millions have received this annual or biannual treatment through the African Program for Onchocerciasis Control and the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas. However, the problem with ivermectin is that it is a monotherapy microfilaricide which has limited effect on the adult worm, and thus will need to be continued for the life span of the adult worm, which may last up to 15 years. There are also early reports of resistance. Serious encephalopathy and death may occur when ivermectin is used in subjects heavily infested with loiasis. It seems unlikely that a break in transmission will occur with community-directed treatment with ivermectin in Africa because of population migrations and the highly efficient vector, but in the Americas some countries such as Columbia and the Oaxaca focus in Mexico have reported eradication. Vector control is only now applicable in selected situations, and particularly to control the nuisance value of the blackfly. Trials are ongoing for alternatives to ivermectin. Candidate drugs include moxidectin, a macrofilaricide, doxycycline which targets the Wolbachia endosymbiont, and flubendazole, which shows promise with the newer oral cyclodextrin formulation.
Keywords: onchocerciasis, river blindness, ocular, management
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