Monday, February 6, 2012

On the trail of black flies and river blindness

The parasite that causes river blindness, Onchocerca volvulus, is transmitted through the bite of the black fly. In the above photo, the parasite can be seen emerging from the antenna of a black fly. (Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture.)

Onchocerciasis, better known as “river blindness,” is one of the leading causes of preventable blindness in the world. More than 18 million people suffer from river blindness, the vast majority of them in Africa.

The disease is caused by parasitic worms that are spread to humans through the bite of the black fly. The symptoms include itching so severe that those infected have been known to claw their skin off – or even commit suicide. The disease can also harden the eye tissue, leading to permanent blindness.

A documentary called “Dark Forest Black Fly” is tracking the efforts of the Carter Center and its partners to wipe out river blindness in Uganda. If successful, Uganda may become the model for eliminating river blindness Africa-wide. (Watch the film's trailer, below.)

The filmmakers and scientists involved will describe their on-the-ground experiences of this historic public health effort on Tuesday, February 7, at the Carter Center in Atlanta. The program will include exclusive footage from “Dark Forest Black Fly,” to be completed this year. Click here for details of the event.

And click here to visit the Science Scene, where you can learn about more great science events at Emory and in metro Atlanta.

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