Clinical manifestations and diagnosis of onchocerciasis

The clinical manifestations of onchocerciasis are the result of inflammation against the dead microfilaria. The most common clinical manifestations include skin rashes, lesions, intense itching, loss of the colour of the skin, and nodule formation (figure a, below). Microfilaria also migrate to the eye, and causes scarring of the cornea (the covering of the eyeball), which leads to sight defects and ultimately blindness (figure b, below).

The itching and disfiguring nodules and blindness are sources of great distress to patients, who may be stigmatised and rejected by their communities.

Effects of onchocerciasis

(a) Nodules on the legs and loss of pigmentation in the skin of a man with cutaneous onchocerciasis. (b) Blindness due to onchocerciasis. (Photos: (a) WHO at; (b) WHO/TDR image 9703913/Crump)

Diagnosis of onchocerciasis is made by clinical examination. If you suspect that a patient may be infected, you should make a referral for laboratory confirmation and treatment. Microscopic investigation of a skin snip (taking samples from the skin) can identify the microfilaria and confirm the diagnosis.

Last modified: Thursday, 10 July 2014, 12:21 AM