DEVELOPMENT REPORT - River Blindness and Tetracycline

By Caty Weaver

This is Bill White with the VOA Special English DEVELOPMENT REPORT.

A new study shows a common antibiotic may be able to help the fight against the disease onchocerciasis, or river blindness.

Scientists from Britain, Cameroon and Germany tested the antibiotic tetracycline on cows infected with very small worms. The worms are similar to those that cause river blindness. The scientists found that the antibiotic attacked a kind of bacteria that lives in the worm and this led to the death of the worm.

The same kind of bacteria lives in the worm that causes river blindness. The scientists believe the tetracycline may have the same effect on the river blindness worm. The Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B. and Science News published their report.

About eighteen-million people currently are infected with river blindness disease. About six-and-one-half of them suffer from severe itching of the skin. Almost three-hundred thousand are blind from the disease.

River blindness is spread by the bite of an insect called the blackfly. The blackfly lays its eggs near fast flowing rivers. The river blindness worm lives in a human for as many as fourteen years. It produces millions of extremely small young called larvae that move around the body.

In Nineteen-Seventy-Four, the World Health Organization began a program to control river blindness in seven west African countries. The program was expanded in Nineteen-Eighty-Six to include four more countries. River blindness has been successfully controlled in most of these countries.

The program battles river blindness with two methods. One is the continual spraying of poison along fast flowing rivers. The poison kills the blackfly eggs laid in those areas.

The other method is to treat infected people with the drug ivermectin. A drug company, Merck, provides the drug at no cost. Ivermectin interferes with the adult worm's reproductive process. The treatment must be repeated yearly to control the number of larvae in the patient.

Scientists think adding tetracycline treatment to these methods could help end river blindness. The antibiotic is low cost and easy to store. This is important in poor hot weather countries where the disease is found. The new treatment may help the fight against river blindness in countries where it has not yet been controlled.

This VOA Special English DEVELOPMENT REPORT was written by Caty Weaver. This is Bill White.

Voice of America Special English