Vision Information: Onchocerciasis, or River Blindness, is a parasitic disease carried by black files that frequently causes the infected victim to go blind.
Onchocerciasis, or what is commonly referred to as "river blindness," is a parasitic disease that in most cases causes the infected victim to go blind. The disease is caused by a parasitic worm called Onchocerca Volvulus, which is spread to the victim through bites from a host black fly. Once the victim has received multiple bites from different infected black flies, river blindness ensues. River blindness is mainly found in Africa.
Symptoms of river blindness are caused from dead Onchocerca Volvulus in the body inducing a severe immune system reaction that causes the skin to deteriorate. Symptoms include skin rash, skin infections, eye lesions, skin deterioration, and most commonly, blindness. Types of skin deterioration vary from person to person and regions therein. Types of skin damage include spotty pigmentation (leopard skin), and thickened, progressive aging (lizard or elephant skin). The skin infection causes severe itching and the deterioration also effects eye tissue which causes irreversible blindness. Symptoms can occur as long as the worms are alive in the body, which can be from 10-15 years.
River blindness can successfully be treated with an oral dosage of Ivermectin every six months to a year. This medication does not eradicate the parasite completely, but lowers their population inside the body to stop the disease from spreading. Although there is no vaccine available for Onchocoerciasis, the World Health Organization has helped reduce the outbreak of the disease through control programs throughout Africa and other infected countries. These control programs have helped downgrade Onchocerciasis from previously being the number one cause of preventable blindness. In 1987, pharmaceutical company Merck and Co. Ltd. announced that they would offer Ivermectin to anyone that needed it for free. This was an incredible milestone for the control of river blindness and the people of Africa, since most of the victims of River Blindness were poor and could not afford medication.
Since River Blindness is transmitted through black flies, the best prevention is insecticide that includes DEET. Other prevention methods include using mosquito nets in sleeping quarters, wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts, and spraying insecticides around living quarters.