Background: The World Health Organization has recently targeted the elimination of trachoma as a public health problem by the year 2020. Community-based treatment with antibiotics, including oral azithromycin, is recommended for severely affected communities. The incidence of adverse effects after azithromycin treatment is not known in trachoma endemic communities.
Methods: We compared the effects of azithromycin with those of topical tetracycline given as mass treatment for trachoma on childhood morbidity in eight rural Gambian villages. The entire population of four villages received oral azithromycin suspension (Zithromax, Pfizer) in doses of 20 mg/kg on Days 1, 8 and 15; the other four villages received topical tetracycline eye ointment for 42 days. Morbidity surveys of subjects 3 months to 14 years old were conducted on Days 0, 7, 14, 21 and 28.
Results: Of the 804 subjects recruited complete follow-up data were available on 791 (412 azithromycin, 379 tetracycline). Fever and headache were the most common complaints. Apart from cough other symptoms were equally prevalent in both groups at baseline. The azithromycin group had 20% fewer illness, fever and headache episodes and 40% fewer diarrhea and vomiting episodes at follow-up than did the tetracycline group.
Conclusions: Azithromycin treatment for trachoma had favorable short term effects on childhood morbidity in rural Gambian villages, particularly in the high malaria transmission season, and adverse effects were not a problem.