The effect of ivermectin, a new microfilaricide, was assessed in a double blind trial against diethylcarbamazine citrate (DEC) and placebo. Fifty-nine adult males with moderate to heavy infection with Onchocerca volvulus and with eye involvement were recruited from an area under Onchocerciasis Control Programme (OCP) vector control in Northern Ghana. They were randomly assigned to an eight-day treatment with ivermectin as a single dose of 12 mg on day 1 followed by placebo for the remaining seven days, or DEC, total dose 1.3 g, or placebo, and ophthalmological review was undertaken over a period of one year. DEC acted quickly to eliminate microfilariae from the eye and was associated with reactive ocular changes and in a few cases functional deficit. Ivermectin eliminated microfilariae slowly from the anterior chamber of the eye over a period of six months. The ocular inflammatory reaction was minimal and no functional deficit occurred. It is postulated that the observed slow action of ivermectin on the eye may be attributed in part to its instability to cross the blood-aqueous humour barrier because of its molecular size as a macrocyclic lactone causing microfilariae to leave the eye gradually along a newly created gradient. Ivermectin is an effective microfilaricide with minimal ocular adverse effect and could therefore be suitable for widespread application without strict supervision.
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