Filarial nematodes are important helminth parasites of the tropics and a leading cause of global disability. They include species responsible for onchocerciasis, lymphatic filariasis and dirofilariasis. A unique feature of these nematodes is their dependency upon a symbiotic intracellular bacterium, Wolbachia, which is essential for normal development and fertility. Advances in our understanding of the symbiosis of Wolbachia bacteria with filarial nematodes have made rapid progress in recent years. Here we summarise our current understanding of the evolution of the symbiotic association together with insights into the functional basis of the interaction derived from genomic analysis. Also we discuss the contribution of Wolbachia to inflammatory-mediated pathogenesis and adverse reactions to anti-filarial drugs and describe the outcome of recent field trials using antibiotics as a promising new tool for the treatment of filarial infection and disease.