Background: The risk of severe adverse events following treatment of onchocerciasis with ivermectin in areas co-endemic with loiasis currently compromises the development of control programmes and the treatment of co-infected individuals. We therefore assessed whether doxycycline treatment could be used without subsequent ivermectin administration to effectively deliver sustained effects on Onchocerca volvulus microfilaridermia and adult viability. Furthermore we assessed the safety of doxycycline treatment prior to ivermectin administration in a subset of onchocerciasis individuals co-infected with low to moderate intensities of Loa loa microfilaraemia.
Methods: A double-blind, randomized, field trial was conducted of 6 weeks of doxycycline (200 mg/day) alone, doxycycline in combination with ivermectin (150 microg/kg) at +4 months or placebo matching doxycycline + ivermectin at +4 months in 150 individuals infected with Onchocerca volvulus. A further 22 individuals infected with O. volvulus and low to moderate intensities of Loa loa infection were administered with a course of 6 weeks doxycycline with ivermectin at +4 months. Treatment efficacy was determined at 4, 12 and 21 months after the start of doxycycline treatment together with the frequency and severity of adverse events.
Results: One hundred and four (60.5%) participants completed all treatment allocations and follow up assessments over the 21-month trial period. At 12 months, doxycycline/ivermectin treated individuals had lower levels of microfilaridermia and higher frequency of amicrofilaridermia compared with ivermectin or doxycycline only groups. At 21 months, microfilaridermia in doxycycline/ivermectin and doxycycline only groups was significantly reduced compared to the ivermectin only group. 89% of the doxycycline/ivermectin group and 67% of the doxycycline only group were amicrofilaridermic, compared with 21% in the ivermectin only group. O. volvulus from doxycycline groups were depleted of Wolbachia and all embryonic stages in utero. Notably, the viability of female adult worms was significantly reduced in doxycycline treated groups and the macrofilaricidal and sterilising activity was unaffected by the addition of ivermectin. Treatment with doxycycline was well tolerated and the incidence of adverse event to doxycycline or ivermectin did not significantly deviate between treatment groups.
Conclusions: A six-week course of doxycycline delivers macrofilaricidal and sterilizing activities, which is not dependent upon co-administration of ivermectin. Doxycycline is well tolerated in patients co-infected with moderate intensities of L. loa microfilariae. Therefore, further trials are warranted to assess the safety and efficacy of doxycycline-based interventions to treat onchocerciasis in individuals at risk of serious adverse reactions to standard treatments due to the co-occurrence of high intensities of L. loa parasitaemias. The development of an anti-wolbachial treatment regime compatible with MDA control programmes could offer an alternative to the control of onchocerciasis in areas of co-endemicity with loiasis and at risk of severe adverse reactions to ivermectin.
Trial registration: Controlled-Trials.com ISRCTN48118452.