We focus on possible constraints upon Onchocerca volvulus establishment in humans in relation to exposure rates to infective larvae (L3) as measured by the annual transmission potential (ATP). We use mathematical and statistical modeling of pre-control west African (savanna), Mexican, and Guatemalan data to explore two hypotheses relating human infection to transmission intensity: microfilarial (mf) loads either saturate with increasing ATP or become (asymptotically) proportional to the ATP. The estimated proportion of L3 developing into adult worms ranged from 7% to 0.3% (low and high intensity areas, respectively). Relationships between mf prevalence and both mf and transmission intensity were nonlinear and statistically similar between west Africa (Simulium damnosum s.l.) and Meso America (S. ochraceum s.l.). This similarity extended to the relationship between mf intensity and ATP. The critical biting rates for onchocerciasis introduction and persistence (which depended on vector competence and host preference), were approximately 10-fold higher in settings where onchocerciasis is transmitted by S. ochraceum than in those where the vector is S. damnosum. A role for focal vector control in Mexico and Guatemala, in addition to nodulectomy and ivermectin, is suggested.