Serious reactions after mass treatment of onchocerciasis with ivermectin in an area endemic for Loa loa infection

Lancet. 1997 Jul 5;350(9070):18-22. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(96)11094-1.


Background: In 1995, the World Bank launched an African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control to eliminate Onchocerca volvulus disease from 19 African countries by means of community-based ivermectin treatment (CBIT). Several cases of encephalopathy have been reported after ivermectin in people heavily infected with microfilariae of Loa loa (loiasis). We assessed the incidence of serious events in an area where onchocerciasis and loiasis are both endemic.

Methods: Ivermectin (at 150 micrograms/kg) was given to 17877 people living in the Lékié area of Cameroon. 50 microL samples of capillary blood were taken during the daytime before treatment from all adults (aged > or = 15 years), and the numbers of L loa and Mansonella perstans microfilariae in them were counted. Patients were monitored for 7 days after treatment. Adverse reactions were classified as mild, marked, or serious. Serious reactions were defined as those associated with a functional impairment that required at least a week of full-time assistance to undertake normal activities. We calculated the relative risk of developing marked or serious reactions for increasing L loa microfilarial loads. Risk factors for serious reactions were identified and assessed with a logistic regression model.

Findings: 20 patients (0-11%) developed serious reactions without neurological signs but associated with a functional impairment lasting more than a week. Two other patients were in coma for 2-3 days, associated with L loa microfilariae in cerebrospinal fluid. Occurrence of serious reactions was related to the intensity of pretreatment L loa microfilaraemia. The relative risk of developing marked or serious reactions was significantly higher when the L loa load exceeded 8000 microfilariae/mL; for serious reactions, the risk is very high (odds ratio > 1000) for loads above 50000 microfilariae/mL.

Interpretation: Epidemiological surveys aimed at assessing the intensity of infection with L loa microfilariae should be done before ivermectin is distributed for onchocerciasis control in areas where loiasis is endemic. In communities at risk, monitoring procedures should be established and adhered to during CBIT so that people developing serious reactions may receive appropriate treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Animals
  • Anthelmintics / adverse effects*
  • Anthelmintics / therapeutic use
  • Antinematodal Agents / adverse effects
  • Antinematodal Agents / therapeutic use
  • Endemic Diseases*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ivermectin / administration & dosage
  • Ivermectin / adverse effects*
  • Loa / isolation & purification
  • Loiasis / epidemiology*
  • Loiasis / parasitology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nervous System Diseases / chemically induced
  • Onchocerca volvulus* / isolation & purification
  • Onchocerciasis / drug therapy*
  • Onchocerciasis / epidemiology*
  • Onchocerciasis / parasitology
  • Risk Factors


  • Anthelmintics
  • Antinematodal Agents
  • Ivermectin