A leading cause of preventable blindness may be controlled by simple course of oral antibiotic

Treating entire communities with the oral antibiotic azithromycin might effectively control an infection that causes widespread eye disease in developing countries, according to a new study.

The eye disease is trachoma, one of the world's leading causes of preventable blindness. Research results show oral treatment to be markedly better in reducing the number of infections than topical therapy, which uses an ointment form of the antibiotic tetracycline. Public health programs historically used the topical ointment for treatment and control of trachoma.

"We have known for decades that we had the antibiotics to successfully treat this disease when cases developed, but we didn't seem to have the right drug delivery method to control the bug over time. Now we know that we do, and we are very excited at the promise of these results," said Julius Schachter, PhD, professor of laboratory medicine at the University of California San Francisco and lead investigator of the study.

"Although azithromycin costs more than tetracycline ointment, the expense may be offset by the higher costs of distributing and administering multiple doses of the ointment," added Schachter, who also is director of the UCSF Chlamydia Research Laboratory at San Francisco General Hospital Medical Center. Study findings are reported in the August 21st issue of the British medical journal, The Lancet.

Researchers compared the effect of the two antibiotic regimens on infection rates in villages located in trachoma endemic areas where transmission of infection is high. The villages were in the African countries of Egypt, The Gambia, and Tanzania.

Previous studies have shown that topical antibiotics reduced the severity of disease and infection levels for the short-term, but they did not control trachoma levels over the long-term.

Trachoma occurs when the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis infects the inner eyelid. The disease persists in staggering numbers in developing countr

Contact: Rebecca Sladek Nowlis
University of California - San Francisco

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