"Trachoma is the leading infectious cause of blindness worldwide." -World Health Organization
"Trachoma is endemic in 57 countries, with 40 million people in need of treatment."
-Center for Disesase Control
What is Trachoma?
Trachoma, an infectious eye disease, is the leading cause of preventable blindness. Nearly “41 million people in 57 countries” host the active virus and “an estimated eight million people” have lost their eye sight due to issues caused by this disease. Chlamydia trachomatis, the bacterium responsible for causing Trachoma, is highly contagious and transmitted through indirect and direct contact; eye discharge, the leg of a fly, animal fur, clothing, towels, etc. Children under the age of ten are the most susceptible to the infection. 60-90% of all children in underdeveloped establishments carry the infection. Women caring for infected children commonly develop trachoma due to close exposure to the bacteria. Women who contract Trachoma are at a 75% risk of becoming blind juxtaposed to children who typically host the infection. Blindness does not develop after one exposure to Chlamydia trachomatis, rather multiple exposures.
Trachoma flourishes in impoverished areas with poor health care, sanitation, close living environments, and poor water quality. Trachoma has a twelve day incubation period. Therefore, people become contagious almost two weeks before they develop symptoms. Typically the infection presents itself as pink eye (also known as conjunctivitis), which causes bilateral eye inflammation and consequently excessive eye discharge. As the infection advances it leads to blurred vision, itchiness, and eye pain. Without proper treatment small scar-like lesions develop on the inside of a patient’s eyelids. Overtime, the eyelids invert themselves, a condition known as trichiasis. Then, a patient’s eyelashes scratch their cornea and they develop corneal ulcers and eventually complete, irreversible vision impairment.
However, the prognosis for individuals who eliminate the trachoma bacteria, Chlamydia trachomatis, before it reaches advance stages is very good. Trachoma is diagnosed by an ophthalmologist, who examines the eye, evaluates eye inflammation, cultures eye secretions, and takes living environments and exposure risk into consideration. Antibiotics are used to treat early stages of Trachoma. In more complex cases, surgery is used to eliminate eye abrasions and debris. Trachoma is easily treated, yet commonly mismanaged due to poverty, inadequate hygiene, and lack of satisfactory healthcare.
In 1997, The Elimination of Blinding Trachoma (GET) was established to raise awareness and money for the infection. The in 1998, The SAFE (Surgery, Antibiotic treatment, Facial cleanliness, Environmental improvement) initiated a global effort to combat the endemic. For example, in the United states the mass drug administration treatment plans will satisfy one patient’s needs in an impoverish area for under fifty cents per year. Simple measures can be taken to eradicate these transmissible infections. As John F. Kennedy stated: “there is no escaping our obligations: our moral obligations as a wise leader and good neighbor in the interdependent community of free nations – our economic obligations as the wealthiest people in a world of largely poor people, as a nation no longer dependent upon the loans from abroad that once helped us develop our own economy – and our political obligations as the single largest counter to the adversaries of freedom.” Neglected tropical diseases, like Trachoma, can and should be treated. As a developed nation, the United States has an obligation to educate, advocate, and help to eradicate these endemics and heal individuals in dire need of medical care.
Facts and Figures
- Public health issue in over 40 countries
Causes visual difficulties in approximately 2 million people
More than 200 million people live in areas where trachoma is prevalent and are at risk for acquiring the infection
Blindness from trachoma is irrevocable
Most common cause of infectious blindness worldwide
Common in pre-school aged children