Insecticide Research Unit, Onchocerciasis Control Program in West Africa, Division of Geographic Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Alabama at Birmingham, University Station, Bouake, Bouake, Cote d'Ivoire
The development of polymerase chain reaction-based methods using strain- and species-specific DNA probes for Onchocerca volvulus has permitted classification of individual parasites from every stage of the parasite's life cycle. This technology has been applied on a large scale basis by Onchocerciasis Control Program (OCP) in West Africa. The primary objective of the OCP in using the DNA probes was to obtain accurate estimates of the annual transmission potential of the blinding strain of O. volvulus. The DNA probe classification of larvae collected throughout the OCP area demonstrated that larvae of less pathogenic strains of O. volvulus and other filarial parasites carried by Simulium damnosum s.l. have resulted in a significant overestimation of the annual transmission potential for blinding onchocerciasis. This effect is particularly pronounced along the southern border of the OCP, where the blinding and less pathogenic strains of O. volvulus coexist, and in the north of the control area, where animal parasites, particularly O. ochengi, may even predominate. A second objective of the OCP in applying the DNA probe technology was to determine the distribution of blinding and less pathogenic O. volvulus in infected individuals along the southern border of the control area. Results obtained from these studies have generally confirmed the distribution pattern established by previous epidemiologic studies. In addition, DNA probe classifications have demonstrated that in areas where the blinding and less pathogenic strains of O. volvulus coexist, a single individual may simultaneously be infected with both strains of the parasite.