Little is known of the epidemiology and clinical picture of ocular onchocerciasis in South America. A survey of onchocercal eye disease was performed in the hyperendemic area of a rain forest focus of onchocerciasis in Esmeraldas Province in Ecuador. A total of 785 skin snip positive individuals from black and Chachi Amerindian communities were examined. The blindness rate attributable to onchocerciasis was 0.4%, and 8.2% were visually impaired. Onchocercal ocular lesions were seen in a high proportion of the study group: 33.6% had punctate keratitis, microfilariae in the anterior chamber and cornea were seen in 28.9% and 33.5% respectively, iridocyclitis was seen in 1.5%, optic atrophy in 5.1%, and chorioretinopathy in 28.0%. Sclerosing keratitis was not seen. The prevalence of all ocular lesions increased with age. Punctate keratitis was strongly associated with microfilarial counts in the cornea and chorioretinopathy was correlated with infection intensities in the cornea and anterior chamber. Chachi Amerindians had higher anterior chamber microfilarial counts and a greater prevalence of punctate keratitis than blacks though blacks had a greater prevalence of iridocyclitis and optic nerve disease. The pattern of ocular disease resembled rain forest onchocerciasis in west Africa with few severe ocular lesions in the anterior segment and all blinding lesions attributable to posterior segment disease.
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