Clinical signs of trachoma are prevalent among Solomon Islanders who have no persistent markers of prior infection with Chlamydia trachomatis

10 Aug 2018
Butcher R, Sokana O, Jack K, Sui L, Russell C, Last A, MartinDL, Burton MJ, Solomon AW, Mabey DCW, Roberts Cj

Background: The low population prevalence of trachomatous trichiasis and high prevalence of trachomatous inflammation–follicular (TF) provide contradictory estimates of the magnitude of the public health threat from trachoma in the Solomon Islands. Improved characterisation of the biology of trachoma in the region may support policy makers as they decide what interventions are required. Here, age-specific profiles of anti-Pgp3 antibodies and conjunctival scarring were examined to determine whether there is evidence of ongoing transmission and pathology from ocular Chlamydia trachomatis (Ct) infection.
Methods: A total of 1511 individuals aged ≥1 year were enrolled from randomly selected households in 13 villages in which >10% of children aged 1–9 years had TF prior to a single round of azithromycin mass drug administration undertaken six months previously. Blood was collected to be screened for antibodies to the Ct antigen Pgp3. Tarsal conjunctival photographs were collected for analysis of scarring severity.
Results: Anti-Pgp3 seropositivity was 18% in 1–9 year olds, sharply increasing around the age of sexual debut to reach 69% in those over 25 years. Anti-Pgp3 seropositivity did not increase significantly between the ages of 1–9 years and was not associated with TF (p=0.581) or scarring in children (p=0.472). Conjunctival scars were visible in 13.1% of photographs. Mild (p<0.0001) but not severe (p=0.149) scars increased in prevalence with age.
Conclusions: Neither conjunctival scars nor lymphoid follicles were associated with antibodies to Ct, suggesting that they are unlikely to be a direct result of ocular Ct infection. Clinical signs of trachoma were prevalent in this population but were not indicative of the underlying rates of Ct infection. The current World Health Organization guidelines for trachoma elimination indicated that this population should receive intervention with mass distribution of antibiotics, but the data presented here suggest that this may not have been appropriate.