Trachoma is the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness of infectious origin. Caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis, trachoma is easily spread through direct personal contact, shared towels and cloths, and flies that have come in contact with the eyes or nose of an infected person.Trachoma affects the eyelids and conjunctiva (outside covering) of the eye, usually with very little discomfort until later in the disease. When infected, the conjunctival covering of the eye becomes red and irritated (inflamed). The lids become scarred and the lid margins may turn in, causing eye irritation and pain.
The main treatment for active trachoma, caused by the Chlamydia trachomatis bacterium, is the antibiotic azithromycin. Mass treatment became economically feasible only in 1998 when the International Trachoma Initiative began making substantial quantities of azithromycin available at no cost. "We now had a single-dose antibiotic, which provided the impetus to fight this disease," recalls Dr. Sheila K. West, NEI grantee and professor at Johns Hopkins University.In the early stages of trachoma, treatment with antibiotics alone may be enough to eliminate the infection. Your doctor may prescribe tetracycline eye ointment or oral azithromycin (Zithromax). Azithromycin appears to be more effective than tetracycline, but it's more expensive.