Genomics of Ocular Chlamydia trachomatis after 5 years of SAFE interventions for trachoma in Amhara, Ethiopia

08 Jun 2020
Harry Pickering, Ambahun Chernet, Eshetu Sata, Mulat Zerihun, Charlotte A. Williams, Judith Breuer, Andrew W. Nute, Mahiteme Haile, Taye Zeru, Zerihun Tadesse, Robin L. Bailey, E. Kelly Callahan, Martin J. Holland, Scott D. Nash

Background To eliminate trachoma as a public health problem, the WHO recommends the SAFE strategy. As part of the SAFE strategy in the Amhara Region, Ethiopia, the Trachoma Control Program distributed over 124 million doses of antibiotic between 2007 and 2015. Despite these interventions, trachoma remained hyperendemic in many districts and a considerable level of Chlamydia trachomatis (Ct) infection was evident.

Methods We utilised residual material from Abbott m2000 Ct diagnostic tests to sequence 99 ocular Ct samples from Amhara and investigated the role of Ct genomic variation in the continued transmission of Ct following 5 years of SAFE.

Findings Sequences were typical of ocular Ct, at the whole-genome level and in tissue tropism-associated genes. There was no evidence of macrolide-resistance in this Ct population. Polymorphism in a region around ompA gene was associated with village-level TF prevalence. Additionally, greater ompA diversity at the district-level was associated with increased Ct infection prevalence.

Interpretation We found no evidence for Ct genomic variation contributing to continued transmission of Ct after treatment, adding to previous evidence that azithromycin does not drive acquisition of macrolide resistance alleles in Ct. Increased Ct infection in villages and in districts with more ompA variants requires longitudinal investigation to understand what impact this may have on treatment success and host immunity.