Onchocerciasis, also known as "river blindness," is a parasitic disease that is caused by infection from the filarial nematode (roundworm), Onchocerca volvulus. Nematodes are transmitted from person to person by blackflies of the Simulium genus, which usually breed in fast flowing streams and rivers. The disease is the second leading infectious cause of blindness in endemic areas.Ivermectin (a microfilaricide) is widely distributed to endemic populations for prevention and treatment of onchocerciasis. Doxycycline, an antibiotic, targets Wolbachia organisms that are crucial to the survival of adult onchocerca (macrofilaricide). Combined treatment with both drugs is believed to cause direct microfilarial death by ivermectin and indirect macrofilarial death by doxycycline. Long-term reduction in the numbers of microfilaria in the skin and eyes and in the numbers of adult worms in the body has the potential to reduce the transmission and occurrence of onchocercal eye disease.
The primary aim of this review was to assess the effectiveness of doxycycline plus ivermectin versus ivermectin alone for prevention and treatment of onchocerciasis. The secondary aim was to assess the effectiveness of doxycycline plus ivermectin versus ivermectin alone for prevention and treatment of onchocercal ocular lesions in communities co-endemic for onchocerciasis and Loa loa (loiasis) infection.
We searched CENTRAL (which contains the Cochrane Eyes and Vision Trials Register) (Issue 7, 2015), Ovid MEDLINE, Ovid MEDLINE In-Process and Other Non-Indexed Citations, Ovid MEDLINE Daily, Ovid OLDMEDLINE (January 1946 to July 2015), EMBASE (January 1980 to July 2015), PubMed (1948 to July 2015), Latin American and Caribbean Health Sciences Literature Database (LILACS) (1982 to July 2015), the metaRegister of Controlled Trials (mRCT) (www.controlled-trials.com) (last searched 1 July 2014), ClinicalTrials.gov (www.clinicaltrials.gov) and the World Health Organization (WHO) International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) (www.who.int/ictrp/search/en). We did not use any date or language restrictions in the electronic search for trials. We last searched the electronic databases on 15 July 2015.
We included randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that had compared doxycycline plus ivermectin versus ivermectin alone. Participants with or without one or more characteristic signs of ocular onchocerciasis resided in communities where onchocerciasis was endemic.
Two review authors independently assessed trial eligibility and extracted data. We used standard methodological procedures as expected by Cochrane.
We identified three RCTs including a total of 466 participants with a diagnosis of onchocerciasis. All trials compared doxycycline plus ivermectin versus ivermectin alone. One study investigated improvement in visual impairment at six-month follow-up; the other two studies measured microfilarial loads in skin snips to assess sustained effects of treatment at follow-up of 21 months or longer. The studies were conducted at various centers across three countries (Cameroon, Ghana, and Liberia). We judged all studies to be at overall high risk of bias because of inadequate randomization and lack of masking (one study), missing data (two studies), and selective outcome reporting (three studies).Only one study measured visual outcomes. This study reported uncertainty about the difference in the proportion of participants with improvement in visual impairment at six-month follow-up for doxycycline plus ivermectin compared with ivermectin alone (risk ratio (RR) 1.06, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 0.80 to 1.39; 240 participants; very low-quality evidence). No participant in either group showed improvement in optic atrophy, chorioretinitis, or sclerosing keratitis at six-month follow-up. More participants in the doxycycline plus ivermectin group than in the ivermectin alone group showed improvement in iridocyclitis (RR 1.24, 95% CI 0.69 to 2.22) and punctate keratitis (RR 1.43, 95% CI 1.02 to 2.00) at six-month follow-up; however, we graded these results as very low quality.Two studies reported that a six-week course of doxycycline may result in Wolbachia depletion and macrofilaricidal and sterilizing activities in female Onchocerca worms; however, no analysis was possible because data were missing and incomplete (graded evidence as very low quality). Adverse events were reported in 16 of 135 (12%) participants in one of these studies and included itching, headaches, body pains, and vertigo; no difference between treatment groups was reported for any adverse event. The second study reported that one (1.3%) participant in the doxycycline plus ivermectin group had bloody diarrhea after treatment was initiated.
Available evidence on the effectiveness of doxycycline plus ivermectin compared with ivermectin alone in preventing and treating onchocerciasis is unclear. Limited evidence of very low quality from two studies indicates that a six-week course of doxycycline followed by ivermectin may result in more frequent macrofilaricidal and microfilaricidal activity and sterilization of female adult Onchocerca compared with ivermectin alone; however, effects on vision-related outcomes are uncertain. Future studies should consider the effectiveness of treatments in preventing visual acuity and visual field loss and their effects on anterior and posterior segment lesions, particularly chorioretinitis. These studies should report outcomes in a uniform and consistent manner at follow-up of three years or longer to allow detection of meaningful changes in vision-related outcomes.