Ever had an eyelash in your eye?  It's a common--and really painful--experience that almost everyone can relate to.  Now think of the pain experienced in the few minutes until you can remove the eyelash, but multiply it by thousands, and you'll come close to understanding the pain caused by trachoma long before it even reaches its most well-known manifestation: blindness.

A single exposure to trachoma bacterium does not in itself cause blindness. Repeated exposure to the disease -- through person-to-person contact or infected flies -- over time eventually causes the inside of the eyelid to turn inward -- a condition called trichiasis -- and the eyelashes to scrape and scar the cornea, leading to the formation of corneal opacities and painful and irreversible blindness. Trachoma is particularly common in children under five and the adults – mainly women – who care for them. In some rural communities, 60 – 90 percent of children are infected.  Adult women are three times more likely to develop the blindness associated with trachoma, attributed in part to their caretaking of very young children.

Trachoma is the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness. More than 84 million people in 56 countries worldwide have active trachoma, and an estimated eight million have lost their sight due to complications from the disease.

Treatment for trachoma focuses on active symptom elimination and future prevention efforts. A major comprehensive public health strategy approved by the World Health Organization, called SAFE, is underway to treat trachoma epidemics in rural Africa and other parts of the developing world. The combination of surgery (S), antibiotics--typically azyithromycin/Zithromax (A), facial cleanliness (F) and environmental educational efforts (E) is a multi-pronged approach to the disease and has shown promising results.

Between 1999 and 2006, nearly 41 million antibiotic treatments for blinding
trachoma were administered worldwide.  For more information, visit organizations like the International Trachoma Initiative and Helen Keller International.