SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 2016

Climate may play role in trachoma prevalence

Low rainfall and high temperatures are factors that influence the severity and occurrence of trachoma, according to a study recently published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Sightsavers, an organization working to combat blindness in developing countries, conducted a systematic review to explore links between climate and trachoma. Trachoma is the most common cause of infectious blindness.

The researchers found that temperature and rainfall seem to influence trachoma transmission in Africa. Eye-seeking flies that spread trachoma are more active at higher temperatures and more prevalent in areas with low rainfall.

"This review underlines the urgent need for organizations such as Sightsavers to step-up global efforts to eliminate trachoma, before regional climate shifts makes the current situation worse," Dominic Haslam, the director of policy at Sightsavers and a co-author of the study, said. "The blinding disease already causes devastating suffering to millions around the world, and yet we know that by promoting face washing, better hygiene and sanitation, we can help manage the spread of trachoma in endemic communities."

The World Health Organization resolves to eliminate blinding trachoma by 2020. The authors of the study said that a greater understanding of all factors affected the incidence of the disease is needed to eliminate the disease on schedule. The study is the first to bring together evidence on the role climate plays on trachoma.

"Our findings will assist international efforts to map where trachoma occurs as we now have a clearer understanding of the role that altitude, temperature and rainfall can play," Sari Kovats, a co-author of the study, said. "We need to increase research on the environmental determinants of blinding trachoma in order to make control measures more effective now and in the future."

Trachoma affects more than 40 million people and an estimated 1.2 billion people worldwide live in areas where trachoma is found.