River Blindness, which is referred to medically as Onchocerciasis is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide. River blindness effects both the eyes and skin, and is caused by infection of the parasitic worm known as the Onchocerca Volculus. This worm is transmitted by fly bites, typically from the notorious blackfly that breeds in rivers, which is where the disease’s name originates from. Once bitten by a blackfly, the worms (microfilariae) are transmitted from the fly into your skin, and repeated bites allow for the infection to strengthen.
After infection, it may take over a year for the larvae to mature into adult worms, in which female larvae will start producing larger amounts of Microfilariae. The Microfilariae spread throughout the body, and when they die, they cause an autoimmune response that causes skin lesions, swelling, severe itching and burning, and gradual blindness. While river blindness isn’t a disease specific to the eye, the most notable symptom and debilitation caused by the disease is extreme itchiness in the eyes, and the gradual blindness that it causes.
Treatment For River Blindness
Treatment for such a debilitating disease such as River Blindness is thankfully rather effective. The most common treatment is through the use of Ivermectin, which kills larvae, and renders adult worms incapable of producing further offspring. While Ivermectin is the most popular treatment, there are other stronger treatments, with the drawback of strong side effects.
The largest issue surrounding River Blindness is the fact that most who are infected by the disease are incapable of seeking treatment due to impoverishment, and restricted access to medical treatment. Additional to standard access problems, there has been a growing concern of resistance to the popular Ivermectin treatment plan.
Symptoms of River Blindness
Some infected individuals may never experience any symptoms. This occurs when an individual does not get infected multiple times, which is what allows adult worms to breed. The most common infection symptoms are an intensely itchy skin rash, eye disease and lesions, and nodules under the skin.
While River Blindness has been seen elsewhere, it is largely localized in the African tropics, and certain areas of South America.