Efficacy of a mixture of neem seed oil (Azadirachta indica) and coconut oil (Cocos nucifera) for topical treatment of tungiasis. A randomized controlled, proof-of-principle study

Elson L, Randu K, Feldmeier H, Fillinger U
PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2019;13

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BACKGROUND: Tungiasis is a neglected tropical skin disease caused by the female sand flea (Tunga penetrans), which burrows into the skin causing intense pain, itching and debilitation. People in endemic countries do not have access to an effective and safe home treatment. The aim of this study was to determine the efficacy of a traditionally used and readily available mixture of neem and coconut oil for treatment of tungiasis in coastal Kenya. METHODOLOGY: Ninety-six children aged 6-14 years with at least one embedded viable flea were randomized to be treated with either a mixture of 20% neem (Azadirachta indica) seed oil in coconut oil (NC), or with a 0.05% potassium permanganate (KMnO4) foot bath. Up to two viable fleas were selected for each participant and monitored for 6 days after first treatment using a digital microscope for signs of viability and abnormal development. Acute pathology was assessed on all areas of the feet using a previously established score. Children reported pain levels and itching on a visual scale. RESULTS: The NC was not more effective in killing embedded sand fleas within 7 days than the current standard with KMnO4, killing on average 40% of the embedded sand fleas six days after the initial treatment. However, the NC was superior with respect to the secondary outcomes of abnormal development and reduced pathology. There was a higher odds that fleas rapidly aged in response to NC compared to KMnO4 (OR 3.4, 95% CI: 1.22-9.49, p = 0.019). NC also reduced acute pathology (p<0.005), and there was a higher odds of children being pain free (OR 3.5, p = 0.001) when treated with NC. CONCLUSIONS: Whilst NC did not kill more fleas than KMnO4 within 7 days, secondary outcomes were better and suggest that a higher impact might have been observed at a longer observation period. Further trials are warranted to assess optimal mixtures and dosages. TRIAL REGISTRATION: The study was approved by the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) Scientific and Ethical Review Unit (SERU), Nairobi (Non-SSC Protocol No. 514, 1st April 2016) and approved by and registered with the Pharmacy and Poisons Board's Expert Committee on Clinical Trials PPB/ECCT/16/05/03/2016(94), the authority mandated, by Cap 244 Laws of Kenya, to regulate clinical trials in the country. The trial was also registered with the Pan African Clinical Trial Registry (PACTR201901905832601).