Albendazole for the control and elimination of lymphatic filariasis: systematic review


Julia Critchley (corresponding author) and Paul Garner, International Health Research Group, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Pembroke Place, Liverpool L3 5QA, UK. Tel.: +44 151 705 3193; Fax: +44 151 705 3364; E-mail:,
David Addiss, Division of Parasitic Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Tel.: +1 770 488 7770; Fax: +1 770 488 4465; E-mail:
Henry Ejere, Ophthalmologist, Off Express Bye Pass, PMB 2267, Kaduna, Nigeria. Tel.: +234 62 313 228; E-mail:
Carrol Gamble, Centre for Medical Statistics and Health Evaluation, University of Liverpool, UK. Tel.: +44 151 794 4059; Fax: +44 151 794 5130; E-mail:
Hellen Gelband, MHS Consultant, Takoma Park, Maryland, USA. Tel.: +1 301 270 3055; Fax: +1 301 270 3054; E-mail:


Objectives  The Global Programme to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis recommends albendazole in combination with other antifilarial drugs. This systematic review examines albendazole in treatment and control of lymphatic filariasis.

Datasources  The Cochrane Controlled Trials Register, MEDLINE and EMBASE to April 2005; contacting experts, international organisations and drug manufacturers.

Methods  Randomised or quasi-randomised controlled trials included; two reviewers independently assessed eligibility, quality, and extracted data. We calculated the relative risk of microfilaraemia (mf) prevalence using fixed effect, or random effects model in case of heterogeneity.

Results  Six trials met inclusion criteria. Three trials compared albendazole with placebo: no effect was demonstrated on mf prevalence, but density was lower in one of the three studies at 6 months. Three trials added albendazole to ivermectin, with no demonstrable effect; prevalence tended to be lower at 4–6 months but not at 12 months (4–6 months; RR 0.49, 95% CI 0.18 to 1.39, n = 255, 2 trials; 12 months: RR 1.00, 95% CI 0.88 to 1.13, n = 348, 2 trials). Mf density was significantly lower in two of the three trials; one of two trials measuring density at 12 months showed a difference. Three trials added albendazole to diethylcarbamazine; two were small trials with no difference demonstrated; the third study tended to favour combination at 6 months (RR = 0.62, 95% CI 0.32 to 1.21, n = 491), with a significant difference for density.

Conclusions  The effect of albendazole against adult and larval filarial parasites, alone and in combination with other antifilarial drugs, deserves further rigorous research.


Lymphatic filariasis affects about 120 million people in more than 80 countries. Adult worms live in the lymphatic system and produce larvae (microfilariae, mf), which migrate to the blood and are ingested by the mosquito vector. In the absence of a safe and effective drug to kill adult Wuchereria bancrofti or Brugia malayi, the current strategy is to interrupt transmission by reducing mf.

In the 1990s, research suggested enhanced suppression of mf with albendazole (Jayakody et al. 1993; Ismail 1998; Ottesen et al. 1999). In 1998, the Global Programme to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis (GPELF) recommended annual mass treatment (treating all community members where the disease is endemic) with two-drug regimens: albendazole plus either ivermectin or DEC (GPELF, 2005). Although albendazole has secondary benefits against intestinal helminths (Ottesen et al. 1999; Dickson et al. 2003), we were asked by the GPELF to assess the effects of albendazole alone or in combination with DEC or ivermectin on mf.


Searching for studies

We attempted to identify all relevant studies regardless of language or publication status (published, unpublished, in press, and in progress). We searched the Cochrane Infectious Diseases Group's trials register up to April 2005 (full details of the Cochrane Infectious Diseases Group's methods are published in The Cochrane Library in the section on Collaborative Review Groups) and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library Issue 2, 2005). We searched the following electronic databases using the search strategy defined by The Cochrane Collaboration: MEDLINE (1966 to April 2005); EMBASE (1980 to April 2005); and LILACS (; 1982 to April 2005).

We used the following search terms for all trial registers and databases: filariasis; lymphatic filariasis; elephantiasis; lymphoedema; W. bancrofti; B. malayi; Brugia timori; filaricides; diethylcarbamazine (DEC); Banocide®; carbamazine; Hetrazan®; luxuran; ivermectin; Mectizan®; benzimidazole; albendazole; metiazol; and valbazen. To identify unpublished and ongoing trials, we contacted the World Health Organization, GlaxoSmithKline (the company producing albendazole), and other experts. We checked the reference lists of existing reviews and of all identified trials for further reports.

Selection of studies

One reviewer (HE or JC) screened titles and abstracts identified from the search strategy. We retrieved hard copies of the published or unpublished trial reports potentially relevant to the review for further assessment. We used a pre-designed eligibility form to select studies. We included trials that met the inclusion criteria (HE or JC and PG). We resolved disagreements through discussion.

We included trials that (1) compared albendazole with placebo, DEC or ivermectin; (2) compared ivermectin alone with albendazole co-administered with ivermectin; or (3) compared DEC alone with albendazole co-administered with DEC. All drugs were given in single doses. We initially intended to include trials of mass treatment but none were identified [International Filariasis Review Group 2005 (David Addiss, Julia Critchley, Henry Ejere, Carrol Gamble, Paul Garner, Hellen Gelband)].

Assessment of methodological quality

Two reviewers (HE or JC and PG) assessed trials according to pre-defined quality criteria [Juni et al. 2001; International Filariasis Review Group (David Addiss, Julia Critchley, Henry Ejere, Carrol Gamble, Paul Garner, Hellen Gelband) 2005] in relation to: (1) generation of allocation sequence; (2) concealment of allocation; (3) blinding of participants, investigators, and outcome assessors; (4) completeness of follow up (<10% loss to follow up defined as adequate). Each of these quality criteria was assessed as adequate, inadequate or unclear, except blinding, which was assessed as double blind, single blind or open.

Data collection and analysis

Data were extracted by one reviewer and checked by the second. We extracted data relating to trial and patient characteristics, and outcomes reported. For binary outcomes we recorded the number of participants experiencing the event in each group of the trial and calculated relative risks (RR). We grouped studies by the main comparator interventions (e.g. albendazole vs. placebo). We assessed heterogeneity among included studies by visually inspecting forest plots and carrying out a chi-squared test for heterogeneity (statistical significance at 10% level), and used the random effects model to pool data where heterogeneity was detected.

Most trials reported mf density for individuals mf positive at baseline only, which means the analysis excludes individuals who were newly infected over the course of the study (International Filariasis Review Group 2005). A re-analysis of data from the two Haiti trials (Addiss et al. 1997; Beach et al. 1999; Fox et al. 2005), using a different method of calculating geometric mean, led to a slight reduction in the percentage change in mf density across all groups, but did not influence statistical significance (International Filariasis Review Group 2005).


Six trials were included; of the total 5668 participants, 966 had detectable mf (Addiss et al. 1997; Beach et al. 1999; Dunyo et al. 2000; Pani et al. 2002; Kshirisagar et al. 2004; Simonsen et al. 2004; Fox et al. 2005). All trials were individually randomised, double blind (except for Haiti 2004, Fox et al. (2005) where only outcome assessors were blind), with adequate allocation concealment. Losses to follow-up exceeded 20% in four trials (Table 1). A total of 103 participants were included from the efficacy component of one trial from India (Kshirisagar et al. 2004).

Table 1.  Description of studies
Studies & Refs.Losses to follow-upParticipants(all)n (Mf +ve) Alb# DEC* Iver$ A + D A + IPlaceboTime of reporting
  1. Alb, albendazole; DEC, diethylcarbamazine; Iver, ivermectin; A + D, albendazole and DEC; A + I, albendazole and ivermectin. #Albendazole dose was 400 mg in all trials. *DEC dose was 6 mg/kg in all trials. $Ivermectin dose was 200–400 μg/kg in Haiti 1999, but 150–200 μg/kg in all other trials. Drugs were given as a single dose in all trials.

Haiti 1999 (Addiss et al. 1997; Beach et al. 1999)Inadequate: 585 analysed (61%)Children (5–11 years) with or without W. bancrofti microfilaremia 965113Y Y YYMf positive at 4 months
Ghana 2000 (Dunyo et al. 2000)Inadequate: 273 (80%) of microfilarial-positive participants analysedAdults and children with or without W. bancrofti filariasis1425340Y Y YYMf positive at 12 months
Tanzania 2004 (Simonsen et al. 2004)Inadequate: 1221 (67%) analysedSchool children (6–18 years) with or without W. bancrofti microfilaraemia1829203N Y YNMf positive at 6 and 12 months
India 2002 (Pani et al. 2002)Adequate: implies no losses to follow up (54 analysed out of 54 randomised)Asymptomatic volunteers (aged 10–57), all mf +ve  54 54YY Y NMf positive at 12 months
Haiti 2005 (Fox et al. 2005)Inadequate: 990 (76%) analysedChildren (5–11 years) with or without W. bancrofti microfilaraemia1292183YY Y YMf positive at 3, 6 and 12 months
India 2004 (Kshirisagar et al. 2004)No losses, but only 103 of 1403 patients initially enrolled in a safety study were assessed for efficacyAdults and children over 5 years for safety study; males aged 18–50 for efficacy study 103 73NY Y NMf positive at 3, 6 and 12 months

Reported trial inclusion criteria and outcomes varied. One small trial from India was conducted only in individuals who were mf positive at baseline (Pani et al. 2002); one trial from Ghana reported changes in mf prevalence only on those who were positive at baseline (Dunyo et al. 2000); one trial from Haiti 2005 reported mf prevalence in the whole study population, regardless of mf status at baseline (Fox et al. 2005), and one trial, again from Haiti 1999, reported results both for the whole population, and for those mf positive at baseline only (Addiss et al. 1997; Beach et al. 1999).

Figure 1 shows results for trials reporting only those mf positive at baseline; Figure 2 displays trials that reported mf prevalence for the whole community, including persons who were mf negative at baseline. One trial reported on mf at two time points; 3 and 6 months (Fox et al. 2005), and another trial reported results at three time points (3, 6, and 12 months) (Kshirisagar et al. 2004). Data for each time point are included on the figures.

Figure 1.

Albendazole and albendazole combinations compared with placebo or the single agents: relative risks of mf prevalence for participants mf positive at baseline.

Figure 2.

Albendazole and albendazole combinations compared with placebo or the single agents: relative risks of mf prevalence for albendazole compared with other antifilarial drugs or placebo in participants mf positive or negative at baseline.

Albendazole compared with placebo

Albendazole was compared with placebo in three trials (Addiss et al. 1997; Beach et al. 1999; Dunyo et al. 2000; Fox et al. 2005). In two trials reporting on participants mf positive at baseline (Addiss et al. 1997; Beach et al. 1999; Dunyo et al. 2000), the meta-analysis did not demonstrate a difference between albendazole and placebo in relation to prevalence of mf (RR 0.96, 95% CI 0.83 to 1.10, n = 195, Figure 1). In a third trial reporting mf prevalence in all children regardless of mf status at baseline (Fox et al. 2005) no difference between albendazole and placebo was detected (RR = 1.0, 95% CI 0.66 to 1.53, n = 499 at 6 months; Figure 2).

All three trials reported on microfilarial density (Tables 2 and 3). In two trials, there were no statistically significant differences between albendazole and placebo (Addiss et al. 1997; Beach et al. 1999; Dunyo et al. 2000). In one trial (Haiti 2004), albendazole was significantly better than placebo at 6 months (P < 0.05, author's test), but not at 3 months (Fox et al. 2005).

Table 2.  Microfilarial density for albendazole vs. placebo, vs. ivermectin, and in combination with ivermectin (months of follow-up)
 Unit PlaceboAlbendazoleIvermectinAlbendazole +  ivermectin
  1. † vs. ivermectin: P < 0.05.

  2. ‡ vs. ivermectin P anova (repeated measures) P = 0.01.

Haiti 1999 (Addiss et al. 1997; Beach et al. 1999)Mf/20 μln29292824
4 months5.
% Change17.228.776.198.9†
Ghana 2000 (Dunyo et al. 2000)Mf/100 μln66717075
12 months84535112478
% Change13.068.580.687.3
Tanzania 2004 (Simonsen et al. 2004)Mf/100 μln  98105
Baseline  763.5812.6
6 months  150.029.8
12 months  124.959.4
% Change 6 months  80.496.3‡
% Change 12 months  83.692.7‡
Table 3.  Microfilarial density for albendazole vs. placebo, vs. DEC, and in combination with DEC (months of follow-up)
 Unit PlaceboAlbendazoleDECAlbendazole + DEC
  1. † vs. placebo P < 0.05.

  2. ‡ vs. ivermectin P < 0.05.

India 2002 (Pani et al. 2002)Mf/100 μln 191718
Baseline 77.6 (range: from 22 to 606)81.3 (range: from 22 to 542)79.4 (range: from 22 to 223)
% Change day 3 8.726.235.7
% Change day 7 14.136.745.1
% Change day 360 94.789.695.4
Haiti 2004 (Fox et al. 2005)Mf/20 μln243256246245
Baseline17.3 (95% CI: from 14.5 to 20.6)12.1 (95% CI: from 10.3 to 14.2)12.9 (95% CI: from 11.0 to 15.2)13.4 (95% CI: from 11.4 to 15.8)
3 months8.7 (95% CI: from 7.4 to 10.2)4.7 (95% CI: from 3.9 to 5.7)2.9 (range: from 2.5 to 3.4)2.3 (95% CI: from 2.0 to 2.7)
6 months11.2 (95% CI: from 9.2 to 13.7)4.4 (95% CI: from 3.7 to 5.3)2.8 (95% CI: from 2.3 to 3.4)0.76 (range: from 0.7 to 0.9)
% Change 3 months8.222.031.337.3
% Change 6 months10.334.7†50.480.4‡

Albendazole co-administered with ivermectin

In three trials reporting on participants who were mf positive at baseline, albendazole was co-administered with ivermectin and compared with ivermectin alone (Addiss et al. 1997; Beach et al. 1999; Dunyo et al. 2000). One study from Haiti reported a 73% reduction in mf prevalence for the combination compared with ivermectin alone at 4 months (RR 0.27, 95% CI 0.11 to 0.70, n = 52) (Addiss et al. 1997; Beach et al. 1999) (Figure 1). A second study from Ghana found no difference after 1 year (RR 1.04, 95% CI 0.87 to 1.25, n = 145) (Simonsen et al. 2004). The third study from Tanzania found a statistically significant reduction in mf prevalence after 6 months (RR = 0.74, 95% CI 0.62 to 0.87, n = 203), but after 1 year there was no difference (RR = 0.96, 95% CI 0.81 to 1.13, n = 203) (Simonsen et al. 2004). Meta-analysis of the two trials reporting outcomes at 4–6 months (Addiss et al. 1997; Beach et al. 1999; Simonsen et al. 2004), gave a reduction in mf prevalence of 51% with combination treatment, but this was not significant (RR = 0.49, 95% CI 0.18 to 1.39, n = 255). The two trials reporting at 1 year showed no difference between the treatment arms (RR = 1.0, 95% CI 0.88 to 1.13, n = 348) (Dunyo et al. 2000; Simonsen et al. 2004). The Haiti 1999 trial also reported on mf prevalence for individuals who were mf positive or negative at baseline; results are similar to those presented above (Figure 2).

All three trials reported on mf density (Table 2). One (Ghana) did not find a statistically significant difference between the two groups (Dunyo et al. 2000). The 1999 Haiti study found a significantly greater reduction in geometric mean microfilarial density in the combination group (from 13.7 to 0.3, 98.9%), compared with the ivermectin group (from 15.5 to 1.5, 76.1%) at 4 months (P < 0.05) (Addiss et al. 1997; Beach et al. 1999). As mf density was very low in both groups, the importance of this difference is uncertain. The Tanzania study also found a greater reduction at 6 months in the combination group (from 812.6 to 29.8, 96.3%, compared with 763.5 to 150.0, 80.4%, in the group receiving ivermectin alone, P < 0.001 for both groups compared with baseline) (Simonsen et al. 2004). Similar results were found at 12 months, although the difference between the two groups had narrowed (92.7% reduction in combination group, compared with 83.6% in the ivermectin group) (Simonsen et al. 2004).

Albendazole co-administered with diethylcarbamazine

Three trials compared albendazole co-administered with DEC vs. DEC alone (Pani et al. 2002; Kshirisagar et al. 2004; Fox et al. 2005). The first small study from India randomised only hospital patients who were mf positive at baseline. This study found no significant difference in mf prevalence at 360 days (RR = 0.88, 95% CI 0.61 to 1.26, n = 35) (Pani et al. 2002) (Figure 1). The second community trial from India found no significant differences in mf prevalence at any of the time points assessed (3, 6 and 12 months), but only a small proportion of the study population were included in this assessment (Kshirisagar et al. 2004) (Figure 1). The third, larger study from Haiti enrolled children who were mf positive or negative at baseline (Fox et al. 2005). It found no difference in mf prevalence at 3 months in the treatment arm receiving DEC alone compared with that receiving DEC and albendazole co-administered (at 3 months RR = 0.96, 95% CI = 0.56 to 1.66, n = 491). A non-significant 38% reduction was observed in the group receiving combination therapy at 6 months (RR = 0.62, 95% CI 0.32 to 1.21, n = 491), but the 95% confidence intervals are wide and the estimate is therefore imprecise (Figure 2).

The small hospital trial from India showed no difference in mf density between the treatment arms (Table 3) (Pani et al. 2002). In the 2004 Haiti study, there was no difference in mf density at 3 months, but a statistically significant difference was found at 6 months in favour of combination treatment (2.8 mf/20 μl in the DEC arm compared with 0.76 in the combination arm, P < 0.05) (Fox et al. 2005). The community trial from India did not report on mf density (Kshirisagar et al. 2004).


This review was designed to assess the effects of albendazole alone or in combination with antifilarial drugs currently recommended by GPELF. Albendazole alone did not appear to reduce mf prevalence when compared with placebo, and only one trial found any significant reduction in mf density.

Both ivermectin and DEC are known to kill microfilaria. It has been suggested that combination treatment of albendazole with ivermectin may be more effective than ivermectin alone in the short term, implying that the drug combination will have a greater impact on transmission. However, these findings are based on just three trials, which reported outcomes between 4 and 12 months only; further evidence is clearly required. Doses of ivermectin also differed between the trials; they were highest in the 1999 Haiti study, which showed the greatest relative reduction in mf for the combination treatment compared with ivermectin alone (see Table 1). Three trials compared albendazole co-administered with DEC to DEC alone (Pani et al. 2002; Kshirisagar et al. 2004; Fox et al. 2005). These also had mixed findings (Figures 1 and 2). Most trials had significant losses to follow-up which may influence their results.

A recently published review concluded that co-administration of albendazole was more effective in reducing mf prevalence than one antifilarial drug alone (Gyapong et al. 2005). This review had different inclusion criteria (it included observational data, and did not assess the quality of the studies). Most importantly, it incorporated data from several studies twice (by counting results at 6 and 12 months and combining them in the same meta-analysis) which artificially narrows 95% CI, resulting in the authors erroneously concluding that overall the effect was ‘statistically significant’ (Gyapong et al. 2005).

This review does not consider the positive effects of administering albendazole to people with filariasis, many of whom are incidentally infected with intestinal helminths (Dickson et al. 2003). It is possible other health benefits from albendazole may improve the adherence to mass drug administration for filariasis, if communities perceive them to be valuable. The inclusion criteria do not include non-randomised data, comprehensively assessed by Ottesen et al. (1999), which may well be relevant to programme decisions.

With only six trials of albendazole plus either DEC or ivermectin, statistical power was limited for some of the combinations. Further, all include only a single treatment cycle, and not the annual treatment over at least 5 years recommended to eliminate the disease in a community. Several trials are under way which may provide further data (Kshirisagar et al. 2004). Other outcomes reported in the trials (including antigen prevalence and density, safety, and effects on clinical disease) were not qualitatively different from those described here (International Filariasis Review Group 2005). Ideally, studies should assess the effect of albendazole-containing regimens on adult worms but only two trials attempted this in a sub-group of patients (Pani et al. 2002; Kshirisagar et al. 2004) . Further large well-designed studies and monitoring of on-going programmes are clearly required to assess the effectiveness of albendazole in combination with DEC or ivermectin on transmission of lymphatic filariasis.