Treatment of Onchocerciasis

Key points

  • Prevent the symptoms of onchocerciasis with ivermectin.
  • Ivermectin kills the microfilariae (immature worms) that cause symptoms.
  • Doxycycline can be used to kill the adult worms.
  • Do not take ivermectin if you are infected with loiasis.

Treatment overview

The recommended drug used to treat the symptoms of onchocerciasis is the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin. It works by killing the microfilariae (immature worms) in your body. This can prevent symptoms such as skin damage or vision loss.

Treatment types

Ivermectin is a long-term treatment, given every six months for up to 15 years—the lifespan of an adult worm—or as long as someone has signs of skin or eye infection.

Ivermectin does not kill the adult worms. However, the antibiotic drug doxycycline may be able to kill adult worms by killing the Wolbachia bacteria, which they need to survive. Your healthcare provider might recommend both drugs.

Before taking any drug, work with your healthcare provider to ensure you aren't also infected with Loa loa, the infection causing loiasis. Loa loa is another type of parasitic worm sometimes found in the same areas of central Africa as the parasite that causes river blindness. If you have Loa loa, medications used to treat onchocerciasis can cause severe side effects.

Discuss your treatment options with your provider.