This detailed review of the published studies underlying ivermectin's recent registration for use in lymphatic filariasis (LF) demonstrates the drug's single-dose efficacy (over the range of 20-400 microg/kg) in clearing microfilaraemia associated with both Wuchereria bancrofti and Brugia malayi infections of humans. While doses as low as 20 microg/kg could effect transient microfilarial (mf) clearance, higher dosages induced greater and more sustained mf reduction. The single dose of 400 microg/kg yielded maximal responses, but a number of practical considerations suggest that either 400 microg/kg or 200 microg/kg doses would be acceptable for use in LF control programmes. Associated safety assessments indicate that adverse events, which occur commonly following treatment of microfilaraemic individuals, develop not because of drug toxicity but because of host inflammatory responses to dying microfilariae killed by the ivermectin treatment. Ivermectin is, therefore, a highly effective and generally well tolerated microfilaricide that may soon become an essential component of many public health initiatives to interrupt transmission of lymphatic filarial infection in an effort to eliminate LF globally.
Community trials were started to address questions concerning the safety of ivermectin during large scale treatment, its potential for transmission control, its effect in preventing ocular onchocercal disease, its acceptability and the organization of large scale treatment. A summary is presented of the major, latest results on the short-term epidemiological impact of large scale ivermectin treatment, as observed in eight community trials undertaken in the Onchocerciasis Control Programme in West Africa (OCP). Ivermectin treatment resulted in a 96%-99% reduction in the mean load of microfilariae (mf) in the skin in treated patients. The subsequent mf-repopulation of the skin was faster than in the clinical trials and after 12 months the mean loads had returned to more than 40% of the pre-treatment load. Ocular mf loads were also greatly reduced and a post-treatment regression of early lesions of the anterior segment of the eye was observed. The transmission of Onchocerca volvulus was reduced by some 60% during the first year after treatment in one trial but no additional reduction was observed after the second treatment round. These results, and other recent research findings, have been used to quantify an epidemiological model for the transmission and control of onchocerciasis. Preliminary results of computer simulations of the predicted long-term epidemiological impact of large scale ivermectin treatment indicate that ivermectin treatment may play a very important role in disease control but that it is unlikely to become a practical tool for transmission control in endemic foci. Ivermectin treatment appears to be the most appropriate method for control of recrudescence of infection in an area where the parasite reservoir has been virtually eliminated by vector control, such as in the core area of the OCP.