The epidemiology and natural history of onchocerciasis and its ocular complications in rain forest areas are poorly understood. The present study was conducted on a rubber plantation in a hyperendemic area in the rain forest of Liberia, West Africa, where 800 persons were examined. The prevalence of infection was 84% overall 29% had intraocular microfilariae, and 2.4% were blind in one or both eyes. Onchocerciasis was the cause of all binocular blindness and one-third of all visual impairment. Over half of the visual impairment caused by onchocerciasis was due to posterior segment diseases. Chorioretinal changes were present in 75% of people, and included intraretinal pigment clumping in 52% and retinal pigment epithelium atrophy in 32%. Atrophy of the retinal pigment epithelium was associated with increasing age and severity of infection. Intraretinal pigment was strongly associated with anterior uveitis. There was a strong correlation between uveitis and the inflammatory chorioretinal sequelae: retinitis, intraretinal pigment, subretinal fibrosis, and optic neuropathy. These findings indicate that considerable visual impairment associated with rain forest onchocerciasis is common and is due largely to chorioretinal disease.
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