Loiasis, sometimes called African eye worm, is an eye disease caused by a parasitic worm known as loa loa. In the United States, this disease isn't a concern, but if you plan to travel to Africa, you could be at risk. Here are four things travelers need to know about loiasis.

What are the signs of loiasis?

Loiasis doesn't always cause symptoms, so your optometrist may accidentally discover the worms during your next eye exam. However, you may experience symptoms.

Your eyes may become red and sore, and you may see worms moving against the surface of your eye. When the worms migrate, they cause intense eye pain. If the worms damage the structures inside your eyes, you may experience some degree of vision loss.

How does loiasis spread?

Loiasis is spread by deerfly bites. When deerflies feed on people who are already infected with the parasite, they become infected with the worms' larvae. If one of these infected deerflies feeds on you, the larvae will pass into your body, and you'll get sick, too.

Where is this disease found?

The worm responsible for loiasis, the loa loa worm, is endemic to parts of western and central Africa. It is currently found in these countries:

  • Angola
  • Cameroon
  • Central African Republic
  • Chad
  • Republic of the Congo
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Ethiopia
  • Gabon
  • Nigeria
  • Sudan

If you plan to travel to any of these areas, either for a holiday or for work, you need to be aware of the risk of contracting loiasis and take steps to prevent it.

How can you protect yourself?

Loiasis can be treated with antiparasitic drugs, but it's best to avoid getting sick in the first place. To keep yourself healthy, take precautions to keep deerflies from biting you. These precautions are similar to the precautions you should already be taking to avoid mosquito bites, so you shouldn't find them too difficult.

You should try to stay out of swampy or wooded areas as these locations are prime deerfly habitats. If you need to venture into these areas, make sure to wear long pants and long sleeved-shirts to protect your skin, and use bug repellent to keep deerflies away. At night, sleep under a mosquito net.

If you plan to travel to loiasis-endemic parts of Africa, make sure to take precautions to keep yourself safe from the disease. If you notice the symptoms of loiasis, seek the advice of an optometrist like Quality Eye Care right away.