Onchocerciasis-associated epilepsy in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Clinical description and relationship with microfilarial density

PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2019 Jul 17;13(7):e0007300. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0007300. eCollection 2019 Jul.


Background: High epilepsy prevalence and incidence were observed in onchocerciasis-endemic villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). We investigated the clinical characteristics of onchocerciasis-associated epilepsy (OAE), and the relationship between seizure severity and microfilarial density.

Methods: In October 2017, ivermectin-naive persons with epilepsy (PWE) were recruited from onchocerciasis-endemic areas in the Logo health zone in the DRC. Additional PWE were enrolled in the Aketi health zone, where ivermectin had been distributed annually for 14 years. Past medical history, clinical characteristics and skin snips for Onchocerca volvulus detection were obtained from participants. Bivariate and multivariable analyses were used to investigate associations with microfilarial density.

Results: Of the 420 PWE in the Logo health zone, 392 were skin snipped (36.5% positive). Generalized motor seizures were most frequent (392 PWE, 93.3%), and nodding seizures were reported in 32 (7.6%) participants. Twelve PWE (3.1%) presented Nakalanga features. Sixty-three (44.1%) skin snip-positive PWE had a family history of epilepsy, compared to only 82 (32.9%) skin snip-negative PWE (p = 0.027). Eighty-one onchocerciasis-infected PWE were recruited in the Aketi health zone. Positive correlations between seizure frequency and microfilarial density were observed in Logo (Spearman-rho = 0.175; p<0.001) and Aketi (Spearman-rho = 0.249; p = 0.029). In the multivariable model adjusted for age, gender, and previous treatment, high seizure frequency was associated with increasing microfilarial density in Aketi (p = 0.025) but not in Logo (p = 0.148).

Conclusion: In onchocerciasis-endemic regions in the DRC, a wide spectrum of seizures was observed. The occurrence of Nodding seizures and Nakalanga features, as well as an association between seizure severity and O. volvulus microfilarial density suggest a high OAE prevalence in the study villages.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT03052998.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Antiparasitic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo / epidemiology
  • Endemic Diseases
  • Epilepsy / parasitology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Ivermectin / therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Microfilariae / isolation & purification*
  • Middle Aged
  • Onchocerca volvulus / drug effects
  • Onchocerciasis / complications*
  • Onchocerciasis / diagnosis
  • Onchocerciasis / drug therapy
  • Onchocerciasis / epidemiology*
  • Prevalence
  • Qualitative Research
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Seizures / classification
  • Seizures / diagnosis
  • Seizures / epidemiology*
  • Seizures / parasitology
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Young Adult


  • Antiparasitic Agents
  • Ivermectin

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT03052998

Grant support

RC received funding from the European Research Council, Grant number 768815 (https://erc.europa.eu). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.