Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Trachoma fighting drug may help overall health

A new study from the American Medical Association finds that a drug being used to treat trachoma may help fight other diseases as well. Trachoma is a blindness inducing disease that is only prevalent in poverty-stricken countries. Trachoma was wiped out in the U.S in the 1970s.

The study examined health benefits of the drug to children in Ethiopia. The National Institute of Health and the Carter Center helped to organize the treatments and study.

From this Associated Press article that we found at WSB-TV, writer Carla Johnson details the study further.

"Trachoma is almost part of the definition of poverty," said study co-author Paul Emerson of the Atlanta-based Carter Center. "Its victims are forgotten and without political voice, which is why this finding is so tremendously exciting."

The researchers compared villages where children received the antibiotic Zithromax to villages where treatment was delayed a year. The antibiotic cut the death rate in half, and the researchers speculate it helped prevent deaths from pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria, the biggest killers of Ethiopian children.

Among about 13,000 children in treated villages, there were 45 deaths. Among the 5,100 children in villages where treatment was delayed, there were 37 deaths.

Trachoma is caused by bacteria that spreads to the eyes from fingers, clothing or, some researchers think, from flies. Blindness develops over decades through repeated infections and scarring.

"Anything that has potential to reduce mortality is of large interest," said trachoma researcher Sheila West of Johns Hopkins' Wilmer Eye Institute in Baltimore. West was not involved in the new research.

The study would be stronger if it had compared death rates before and after the antibiotic treatment, she said. And she was puzzled there wasn't much difference in death rates among groups treated once, twice or four times during the year.

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