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Rapid, cheap test detects blinding eye disease

Written by: Staff

LONDON, May 12 (Reuters) Scientists today said they have developed a rapid, inexpensive and easy-to-use diagnostic test to detect trachoma, an eye disease that is the world's leading cause of preventable blindness.

The test for trachoma, an infectious eye disease that occurs mainly in poor countries, produces results in less than half an hour and is more effective than a standard testing technique.

''We have developed a very inexpensive, simple and rapid test that can be used in extremely resource-limited settings to more accurately detect the infection in the eye,'' said Dr Helen Lee, of the University of Cambridge in England.

She headed the team of scientists at the university who devised the 8 centimetre (3 inch) dipstick test.

About 6 million people worldwide are blind due to trachoma and more than 150 million need treatment, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Trachoma is caused by an infection of the eyes. It is passed on by the hands, clothing or flies that land on the face of an infected child. It is most common where poor hygiene and lack of water are a problem.

The infection causes a sticky discharge from the eye. Damage to the cornea and blindness can result from recurring infections.

When Lee and researchers from Tanzania, Britain and the United States compared the device with a standard testing technique in a study of 664 children in Africa, they found it was twice as effective in detecting the illness.

Lee, who reported the findings in The Lancet medical journal, said if the test becomes widely available it could help to identify communities which need mass treatment with antibiotics.

The WHO has launched an alliance for the global elimination of the illness by 2020. The strategy combines public health interventions, improved cleanliness, education and medical treatments.

Reuters SI GC0940

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