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Biannual Antibiotics May Cut Major Cause of Blindness in Africa
Date:2/19/2008

Ocular strain of chlamydia responds well to expanded treatment, report says

TUESDAY, Feb. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Increasing the administration of antibiotics from annually to twice a year in rural African villages could help reduce serious eye infections that can lead to blindness, a new study suggests.

An ocular strain of the sexual transmitted disease chlamydia causes the contagious eye disease trachoma, the leading infectious cause of blindness worldwide. Although it has been eliminated from Western Europe and the United States, it is still common in poor, arid areas such as rural sub-Saharan Africa.

The study, published in the Feb. 20 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that giving azithromycin to all residents in eight Ethiopian villages twice a year for two years reduced infection in preschool children 35-fold, from 31.6 percent to 0.9 percent. In eight other villages where only annual doses of the antibiotic were given, researchers found the infection rate in preschool children dropped only sixfold, from 42.6 percent to 6.8 percent at the end of two years.

The prevalence of infection 24 months after the first dose of antibiotics was significantly lower in children in the biannually treated villages (0.9 percent) than in the annually treated villages (6.8 percent). At 24 months, no infection could be identified in preschool children in six of eight of the residents receiving biannual treatment but only in one of eight of the residents receiving annual treatments.

The World Health Organization has launched a program to control trachoma, relying in large part on annual repeated mass azithromycin administrations. Elimination of ocular chlamydia has become a particularly important goal because of a growing concern that infection may return into communities that have lost some of their immunity to chlamydia after antibiotics are discontinued.

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