Onchocerciasis (River Blindness)

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

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What are risk factors for onchocerciasis?

Living in and visiting sub-Sahara Africa and the few other areas where the blackfly is endemic is a major risk factor for developing onchocerciasis. The disease usually occurs after repeated exposures to blackfly bites so short-term travelers through these areas pose little risk; however, missionaries, volunteer health workers, and others who may spend a few months in the areas have an increased risk of infection.

Can onchocerciasis be prevented?

Currently, there is no drug or vaccine available that prevents onchocerciasis. However, preventing blackfly bites by avoiding areas where they are endemic can prevent infections. Other measures such as personal protection against blackfly bites and other biting insects (for example, insect repellent, pants tucked in boots, long-sleeved shirts) may reduce the chances of infection. Permethrin, an insect repellent, can be impregnated into cloth (shirts, pants, netting) and offers additional protection against blackfly bites

What is the prognosis of onchocerciasis?

The prognosis (outcome) depends on how quickly the infection is recognized and treated. The prognosis is good if the disease is adequately treated and the patient makes their follow-up appointments and treatments. However, if the diagnosis and treatment is accomplished late in the disease, the prognosis may be fair to poor because the patient may develop significant skin alterations, visual problems, or complete blindness.

Medically reviewed by Robert Cox, MD; American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Infectious Disease

REFERENCES:

http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2012/chapter-3-infectious-diseases-related-to-travel/onchocerciasis-river-blindness.htm

http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/onchocerciasis/gen_info/faqs.html

http://www.cdc.gov/globalhealth/ntd/

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/15/2015

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