Loa loa filariasis (also known as loiasis, loaiasis, Calabar swellings, Fugitive swelling, Tropical swelling:439 and African eyeworm) is a skin and eye disease caused by the nematode worm, loa loa. Humans contract this disease through the bite of a Deer fly or Mango fly vector for Loa loa. The adult Loa loa filarial worm migrates throughout the subcutaneous tissues of humans, occasionally crossing into subconjunctival tissues where it can be easily observed. This presentation led to the popular name, African eye worm. Loa loa does not normally affect one’s vision but can be painful when moving about the eyeball or across the bridge of the nose. The disease can cause red itchy swellings below the skin called "Calabar swellings". The disease is treated with the drug diethylcarbamazine (DEC), and when appropriate, surgical methods may be employed to remove adult worms from the conjunctiva.
Human loiasis geographical distribution is restricted to the rain forest and swamp forest areas of West Africa, being especially common in Cameroon and on the Ogowe River. Humans are the only known natural reservoir. It is estimated that 12-13 million humans are infected with the Loa loa larvae.
An area of tremendous concern regarding loiasis is its co-endemicity with onchocerciasis in certain areas of west and central Africa, as mass ivermectin treatment of onchocerciasis can lead to serious adverse events (SAEs) in patients who have high Loa loa microfilarial densities, or loads. This fact necessitates the development of more specific diagnostics tests for Loa loa so that areas and individuals at a higher risk for neurologic consequences can be identified prior to microfilaricidal treatment. Additionally, the treatment of choice for loiasis, diethylcarbamazine, can lead to serious complications in and of itself when administered in standard doses to patients with high Loa loa microfilarial loads.
The first case of Loa loa infection was noted in the Caribbean (Santo Domingo) in 1770. A French surgeon named Mongin tried but failed to remove a worm passing across a woman’s eye. A few years later, in 1778, the surgeon Francois Guyot noted worms in the eyes of West African slaves on a French ship to America; he successfully removed a worm from one man’s eye.
The identification of microfilaria was made in 1890 by the ophthalmologist Stephen McKenzie. Localized angioedema, a common clinical presentation of loiasis, was observed in 1895 in the coastal Nigerian town of Calabar—hence the name, “Calabar” swellings. This observation was made by a Scottish ophthalmologist named Douglas Argyll-Robertson, but the association between Loa loa and Calabar swellings was not realized until 1910 (by Dr. Patrick Manson). The determination of vector—Chrysops spp.—was made in 1912 by the British parasitologist Robert Thompson Leiper
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