Background and Objectives
Trachoma is the most common cause of infectious blindness. Hot, dry climates, dust and water scarcity are thought to be associated with the distribution of trachoma but the evidence is unclear. The aim of this study was to evaluate the epidemiological evidence regarding the extent to which climatic factors explain the current prevalence, distribution, and severity of acute and chronic trachoma. Understanding the present relationship between climate and trachoma could help inform current and future disease elimination.
A systematic review of peer-reviewed literature was conducted to identify observational studies which quantified an association between climate factors and acute or chronic trachoma and which met the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Studies that assessed the association between climate types and trachoma prevalence were also reviewed.
Only eight of the 1751 papers retrieved met the inclusion criteria, all undertaken in Africa. Several papers reported an association between trachoma prevalence and altitude in highly endemic areas, providing some evidence of a role for temperature in the transmission of acute disease. A robust mapping study found strong evidence of an association between low rainfall and active trachoma. There is also consistent but weak evidence that the prevalence of trachoma is higher in savannah-type ecological zones. There were no studies on the effect of climate in low endemic areas, nor on the effect of dust on trachoma.
Current evidence on the potential role of climate on trachoma distribution is limited, despite a wealth of anecdotal evidence. Temperature and rainfall appear to play a role in the transmission of acute trachoma, possibly mediated through reduced activity of flies at lower temperatures. Further research is needed on climate and other environmental and behavioural factors, particularly in arid and savannah areas. Many studies did not adequately control for socioeconomic or environmental confounders.
Trachoma – the leading cause of infectious blindness – is spread through contact with infected persons by hands and towels, and by ‘eye-seeking flies.’ Trachoma prevalence is high in areas characterised by poverty, inadequate water supply, and poor sanitation. Trachoma is controlled by the SAFE strategy: S = surgery to the upper eyelids; A = antibiotics for active infection; F = facial cleanliness; and E = environmental improvement. In this study we reviewed the scientific literature to assess the extent to which climatic factors (e.g., rainfall, heat, dust, altitude) influence trachoma distribution. A systematic review of the literature found eight papers that measured an association between a climatic factor and trachoma in children or adults. Several studies reported that trachoma is less common at higher altitudes, indicating that temperature may play a role in trachoma transmission. Some studies also reported that trachoma is higher in areas with low rainfall, which is consistent with anecdotal evidence that trachoma is associated with dry environments.