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Drugs Can Eliminate River Blindness, Study Finds

The disease onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness, can be eliminated using drugs, according to a WHO study, BBC reports. The disease, which infects about 37 million people worldwide, is caused by a “nematode worm that can live inside the human body for years” and is transmitted to people through the bite of a black fly, the news service writes. The worms spread through the body and when they eventually die, the human immune system “reacts fiercely,” which “destroys living tissue – especially the eye,” according to BBC (7/21).

The study findings were published Tuesday in the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases. According to a WHO release, the “multi-country study showed that treatment with ivermectin stopped further infections and transmission” in three endemic areas in Mali and Senegal (7/21).

For years, scientists have known that drugs can control the disease. “But now they believe it can be eliminated,” writes BBC. The study found that “after 17 years of treating the entire community with the drug ivermectin regularly, few infections remained.” In addition, follow-up studies did not turn up additional infections. Although, it is “not yet clear whether the same success can be repeated in other endemic areas,” researchers “say an important principle has been established. It is possible to wipe out a disease that has a terrible impact on entire communities,” according to BBC (7/21).