Onchocerciasis

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Overview

Onchocerciasis is an eye and skin disease. Symptoms are caused by the microfilariae, which move around the human body in the subcutaneous tissue and induce intense inflammatory responses when they die. Infected people may show symptoms such as severe itching and various skin changes.

Symptoms

Onchocerciasis, commonly known as “river blindness”, is caused by the parasitic worm Onchocerca volvulus. Symptoms include severe itching, disfiguring skin conditions, and visual impairment, including permanent blindness. More than 99% of infected people live in 31 African countries.

Causes

Onchocerciasis, or river blindness, is a neglected tropical disease (NTD) caused by the parasitic worm Onchocerca volvulus. It is transmitted through repeated bites by blackflies of the genus Simulium.

Risk factors

About 125 million people world-wide are estimated at risk of onchocerciasis, and, of these, 96% are in Africa. Of the 37 countries where the disease is endemic, 30 are in sub-Saharan Africa, six are in the Americas and one is in the Arabian Peninsula.

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Complications

Ocular complications of onchocerciasis include blindness secondary to keratitis, pannus formation, and corneal fibrosis. Posterior segment complications include chorioretinitis, intraretinal deposits, open-angle glaucoma, and optic atrophy.

Prevention

Blackflies bite during the day. The best prevention is avoiding being bitten by infected blackflies by using insecticides that contain N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET) on exposed skin, wearing long sleeve shirts and pants, and wearing permethrin treated clothing.