Simple new tool makes treatment for neglected tropical diseases safer

2014

Challenge

Mass drug administration of ivermectin is a successful strategy to control the spread of debilitating parasitic diseases such as onchocerciasis, or river blindness, and lymphatic filariasis, also known as elephantiasis. Unfortunately, in areas where a particular parasitic worm called Loa loa is also prevalent, people carrying high levels of Loa loa larvae are at high risk of experiencing severe neurological side effects after ivermectin treatment.

Advance

By repurposing a hand-held automated cell counter, a team led by IRP researcher Thomas Nutman, M.D., worked with Central African and French colleagues to develop a portable, sensitive, and rapid tool to detect high blood levels of Loa loa larvae.

Impact

The cost-effective and highly mobile device enables health workers to identify Loa loa-infected people and potentially give them alternative therapies with less risk of neurological damage, while continuing mass ivermectin treatment campaigns to eliminate onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis in West and Central Africa.

Publications

Bennuru S, Pion SDS, Kamgno J, Wanji S, Nutman TB. (2014). Repurposed automated handheld counter as a point-of-care tool to identify individuals at risk of serious post-ivermectin encephalopathy. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases. 8(9), e3180. eCollection 2014. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0003180.