River blindness (onchocerciasis) is caused by the filarial nematode Onchocerca volvulus, a parasite transmitted by Similium blackflies. Around 37 million people worldwide are suspected to be infected. Ivermectin, in the form of an annual dose, is the drug that has been widely used for river blindness since 1987. Although invermectin does not kill substantial numbers of adult O. volvulus at standard doses, it prevents them releasing microfilariae and keeps skin counts of microfilariae low.
Professor Roger Prichard, Institute of Parasitology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and colleagues studied 2,501 people in 20 communities in Ghana, West Africa. Of these, 19 had been receiving between 6-18 annual doses of ivermectin, while one community had never been given ivermectin.
In the first phase of the study, all the participants were tested for levels of microfilarial load by taking two millimetre skin snips prior to their 2004 annual ivermectin dose, and 30 days after treatment to determine the effect of the ivermectin. For the second phase, skin snips were taken from 342 individuals from ten communities, who had tested positive at pre-treatment assessment, at 90 and 180 days after treatment.
The researchers found that microfilaria prevalence ranged from 2.2 percent to 51.8 percent, and community microfilarial load in treated communities ranged from 0.06-2.85 microfilariae per snip. Despite treatment, prevalence rate doubled in two communities between 2000 and 2005.
The authors conclude: “Ivermectin remains a potent microfilaricide. However, our results suggest that resistant adult parasite populations, which are not responding as expected to ivermectin, are emerging. A high rate of repopulation of skin with microfilariae will allow parasite transmission, possibly with ivermectin-resistant O. volvulus which could eventually lead to recrudescence of the disease.”
MEDICA.de; Source: Lancet