Non-Chlamydial Bacterial Infection and Progression of Conjunctival Scarring in Trachoma

01 May 2018
Hu VH, Macleod D, Massae P, Afwamba I, Weiss HA, Mabey DCW, Bailey RL, Burton MJ

PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to assess whether non-chlamydial bacterial infection is associated with progression of trachomatous scarring in adults.

METHODS: This was a cohort study involving 800 participants in northern Tanzania who underwent clinical examination, photography, and conjunctival swab collection for microbiology over a 24-month period. Samples for microbiology were inoculated onto blood and chocolate agar, and Chlamydia trachomatis was detected by PCR. Progression was determined by comparison of baseline to 24-month photographs.

RESULTS: C. trachomatis was detected in only four participants at baseline. At 24 months, 617 participants (77.1%) were followed up. Of those seen at 24 months, 452 could be reliably assessed. Definite scarring progression (progressors) was seen in 345 (55.9%); there was no progression (nonprogressors) in 107 (17.3%). Using combined baseline and 12-month microbiology results, progressors had significantly higher levels of commensal and pathogenic bacterial organisms detected compared with nonprogressors. After adjusting for age, baseline scarring, and ethnicity, there was weak evidence (P = 0.07) that the bacteria category was associated with scarring progression (commensal organisms only: odds ratio [OR] = 1.61; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.90 to 2.89; pathogenic organisms either with or without commensal: OR = 2.39; 95% CI: 1.10 to 5.16).

CONCLUSION: The findings were consistent with the possibility that trachomatous scarring in adults is associated with the presence of non-chlamydial bacterial organisms, particularly pathogenic organisms. C. trachomatis was detected very infrequently and may not be an important factor in the pathogenesis of scarring progression in adults. This has implications for trachoma control programs, which largely concentrate on reducing C. trachomatis levels and transmission.