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PLoS Negl Trop Dis. Dec 2009; 3(12): e573.
Published online Dec 22, 2009. doi:  10.1371/journal.pntd.0000573
PMCID: PMC2791206

Active Trachoma and Ocular Chlamydia trachomatis Infection in Two Gambian Regions: On Course for Elimination by 2020?

Jeremiah M. Ngondi, Editor

Abstract

Background

Trachoma has been endemic in The Gambia for decades. National trachoma control activities have been in place since the mid-1980's, but with no mass antibiotic treatment campaign. We aimed to assess the prevalence of active trachoma and of actual ocular Chlamydia trachomatis infection as measured by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in the two Gambian regions that had had the highest prevalence of trachoma in the last national survey in 1996 prior to planned national mass antibiotic treatment distribution in 2006.

Methodology/Principal Findings

Two stage random sampling survey in 61 randomly selected Enumeration Areas (EAs) in North Bank Region (NBR) and Lower River Region (LRR). Fifty randomly selected children aged under 10 years were examined per EA for clinical signs of trachoma. In LRR, swabs were taken to test for ocular C. trachomatis infection. Unadjusted prevalences of active trachoma were calculated, as would be done in a trachoma control programme. The prevalence of trachomatous inflammation, follicular (TF) in the 2777 children aged 1–9 years was 12.3% (95% CI 8.8%–17.0%) in LRR and 10.0% (95% CI 7.7%–13.0%) in NBR, with significant variation within divisions (p<0.01), and a design effect of 3.474. Infection with C. trachomatis was found in only 0.3% (3/940) of children in LRR.

Conclusions/Significance

This study shows a large discrepancy between the prevalence of trachoma clinical signs and ocular C. trachomatis infection in two Gambian regions. Assessment of trachoma based on clinical signs alone may lead to unnecessary treatment, since the prevalence of active trachoma remains high but C. trachomatis infection has all but disappeared. Assuming that repeated infection is required for progression to blinding sequelae, blinding trachoma is on course for elimination by 2020 in The Gambia.

Author Summary

Trachoma is the leading infectious cause of blindness worldwide, and is mainly found in tropical and poor countries. It is caused by infection of the eyes with the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. However, sometimes the clinical signs of disease can be present without infection being detected. Control efforts involve surgery, antibiotic treatment, face washing, and environmental improvement for better hygiene. Surveys of trachoma help countries to know whether and where they should implement control interventions. The Gambia is found in West Africa and has suffered from trachoma for decades. We conducted a survey of two Gambian regions to look at how much trachoma disease and C. trachomatis infection there is in the eyes. We found that although there was enough disease (≥10%) to warrant antibiotic treatment for everyone in the regions, there was nearly no infection (0.3%). This means that using clinical signs alone to make treatment decisions in low prevalence settings like The Gambia can lead to the waste of scarce resources. Our results also suggest that since less than 1% of children are infected with C. trachomatis, The Gambia is on course to achieve the World Health Organization's aim of eliminating blinding trachoma by the year 2020.


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