Also known as Chlamydia Trachomatis, this particular eye disease from the conjunctivitis family is certainly one not to catch, as unlike other forms it is associated with a body infection that is classified as a sexually transmitted disease.
Is Chlamydial Conjunctivitis a notifiable disease?
The answer is maybe, depending on where you are. In Australia it’s necessary to notify authorities the presence of Chlamydia in the body system, but generally not so for chlamydial conjunctivitis of the eye if it is diagnosed by itself. Only in the Northern Territory is it a requirement to notify authorities regarding chlamydial conjunctivitis. This is because it is responsible for an eye condition called Trachoma, which is easily treatable but left untreated can lead to scarring of the eyes and ultimate blindness. More on this later.
In any event the discrepancy is all largely irrelevant since Chlamydia conjunctivitis is for all practical purposes accompanied by Chlamydia in the body system, notably the genital area. The eye-only variation is highly contagious which means touching eyes and sharing towels can easily lead to infection in others.
Causes of Chlamydial conjunctivitis are through having unprotected sex, so the disease is prevalent among sexually active teens and young adults.
Whilst spread of the Chlamydia occurs from hand to eye from genital area infection, Chlamydial conjunctivitis itself can be transmitted by towels and facecloths used on eyes and being shared via eye secretions and discharges. It is particularly prevalent in societies that have not been educated around the importance of hygiene.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of chlamydial conjunctivitis are very similar to those exhibited by other forms of conjunctivitis, so diagnosis can be difficult initially and usually only after eradication of other possibilities. Symptoms develop slowly, again making the diagnosis difficult.
Red eyes, sometimes called “pink eyes”, are very common first symptoms, along with one or more of watery eyes with some discharge, irritation and some sensitivity to light. The fact that vision remains unimpaired and the lack of any pain delays sufferers from seeking treatment and of course diagnosis.
One eye is usually affected first, but the other eye invariably becomes infected due to proximity and hand to eye contact and towel usage.
Treatment methods are twofold since as well as treating the eye infection, care must be taken to ensure that all Chlamydia infection is dealt with:
- Eyes – a course of eye drops and ointment
- Body – a course of antibiotics
In addition to the treatment the patient should refrain from sexual activity, and be tested for other sexually transmitted diseases.
If chlamydial conjunctivitis goes untreated it may lead to Trachoma, an infectious eye disease that has been eradicated from Western society but is still the leading cause of blindness throughout the world.
Children in third world countries are particularly susceptible to catching the disease having dirty faces and frequent contact with other children and family members. Education in facial cleanliness can reduce the occurrence by half, and especially re-infection.
Unfortunately aboriginal people in Australia living in remote communities with poor sanitation are still being blinded by trachoma. Australia is the only developed country that the World Health Organisation says has been unable to achieve complete eradication.
Preventing Further Infection
It is essential that sexual partners of infected persons are informed of their possible infection and are tested for this and other sexually transmitted diseases that unfortunately are frequent companions.