The Mahenge Mountains onchocerciasis focus in south eastern Tanzania was historically one of the most heavily infected areas in the country. The vectors of Onchocerca volvulus are mainly Simulium damnosum complex blackflies, but a species of the Simulium neavei group may also contribute to transmission in some areas. The only detailed studies of parasite transmission in Mahenge were conducted in the late 1960s. The taxonomy of the S. damnosum complex has since been revised and onchocerciasis control through annual community directed treatment with ivermectin (CDTI) commenced in 1997. This study aimed to provide a cytogenetic and molecular update of the S. damnosum complex cytoforms present in Mahenge, and to evaluate the current status of O. volvulus transmission by blackflies following 19 years of annual CDTI. Rivers were surveyed to identify sites of S. damnosum s.l. breeding among the eastern slopes of the mountains, and human landing collections of adult female blackflies were made close to breeding sites. Identification of S. damnosum complex cytoforms was by cytotaxonomy of late-instar larvae and ITS1 amplicon size polymorphisms of larvae and adults. Adult blackflies were pool screened for O. volvulus infection using a triplex real-time PCR. The cytoforms 'Nkusi', Simulium kilibanum and 'Turiani' were found breeding in perennial rivers. 'Nkusi' and S. kilibanum were collected on human bait at 7/7 catch sites and possessed ITS1 profiles most closely resembling the molecular forms 'Nkusi J' and S. kilibanum 'T'. Whereas 'Turiani' was present in rivers, it was not collected on human bait and appears to be zoophilic. Simulium nyasalandicum was collected in low numbers on human bait at 3/7 catch sites. In total, 12,452 S. damnosum s.l. were pool screened and O. volvulus infection was detected in 97/104 pools of bodies and 51/104 pools of heads. The estimated percentage of S. damnosum s.l. carrying infective L3 stage parasites was 0.57% (95% CI 0.43%-0.74%). Onchocerca volvulus transmission by S. damnosum s.l. is continuing in the Mahenge Mountains after 19 years of annual CDTI. Infection rates appear similar to those reported in the 1960s, but a more detailed study is required to fully understand the epidemiological significance of the ongoing transmission. These results provide further evidence that annual CDTI may be insufficient to eliminate the parasite in formerly hyperendemic foci.
- Journal Article