Onchocerciasis (river blindness) - more than a century of research and control

Acta Trop. 2021 Jun:218:105677. doi: 10.1016/j.actatropica.2020.105677. Epub 2020 Aug 26.


This review summarises more than a century of research on onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness, and its control. River blindness is an infection caused by the tissue filaria Onchocerca volvulus affecting the skin, subcutaneous tissue and eyes and leading to blindness in a minority of infected persons. The parasite is transmitted by its intermediate hosts Simulium spp. which breed in rivers. Featured are history and milestones in onchocerciasis research and control, state-of-the-art data on the parasite, its endobacteria Wolbachia, on the vectors, previous and current prevalence of the infection, its diagnostics, the interaction between the parasite and its host, immune responses and the pathology of onchocerciasis. Detailed information is documented on the time course of control programmes in the afflicted countries in Africa and the Americas, a long road from previous programmes to current successes in control of the transmission of this infectious disease. By development, adjustment and optimization of the control measures, transmission by the vector has been interrupted in foci of countries in the Americas, in Uganda, in Sudan and elsewhere, followed by onchocerciasis eliminations. The current state and future perspectives for control, elimination and eradication within the next 20-30 years are described and discussed. This review contributes to a deeper comprehension of this disease by a tissue-dwelling filaria and it will be helpful in efforts to control and eliminate other filarial infections.

Keywords: Onchocerca volvulus; Simulium spp. vectors; Wolbachia; diagnosis; history; pathology; treatment; vector control.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Insect Vectors / parasitology
  • Onchocerciasis, Ocular / epidemiology
  • Onchocerciasis, Ocular / prevention & control*
  • Onchocerciasis, Ocular / transmission
  • Prevalence