Onchocerciasis in Southwestern Sudan: Parasitological and Clinical Characteristics

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  • * Wolfson Tropical Pathology Unit and Medical Helminthology, London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Keppel Street, WC1 E7HT, United Kingdom
  • | Department of Microbiology and Public Health, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan
  • | St. Vincent's Hospital, Melbourne, Australia
  • | § Khartoum Eye Hospital, Khartoum, Sudan

Parasitological and clinical observations were made on residents of Pongo Nuer, a village in the province of Bahr El Ghazal, southwestern Sudan. Of 202 skin biopsies, 189 (94%) were positive for microfilariae of Onchocerca volvulus. Nodules were most common around the pelvic girdle and rare on the limbs or head. Microfilarial intensities, ranging up to 1,094 mf/mg of skin, were highest at the iliac crest and shoulder; they increased rapidly in childhood but then appeared to reach a plateau maintained through adult life. Nodule presence and number, especially at multiple sites, was significantly related to skin microfilarial intensity. Dermal manifestations of O. volvulus infection were widespread and severe, ranging from acute maculopapular eruptions to chronic, diffuse, and degenerative changes, even in young adults. However, high skin microfilarial intensities were found in asymptomatic individuals; conversely, lowest intensities were in those with severest maculopapular lesions, suggesting that host response was a major determinant of disease outcome. Microfilariae were detected in the cornea or anterior chamber of the eyes of one third of those examined in all age groups, but lesions of the posterior segment, including optic neuritis, chorioretinitis, and pigmentary abnormalities, were considered responsible for visual deficits in the population sample. Some pathologic changes in the anterior segment attributable to microfilariae were more common in the young than in adults but there was no preponderance of sclerosing keratitis in adults, contrary to expectations in hyperexposed individuals in a Sudan savannah zone. The best correlate of the presence of microfilariae in the eye was the intensity of infection in shoulder skin snips. Little value could be derived from data on outer canthus samples, either in terms of severity of ocular infection or disease. Microfilaremia was common (76%) but in only one case was attributed to O. volvulus; the remainder were due to Mansonella perstans.