Julius Schachter, Leading Expert on Chlamydia, Dies at 84

He played a major role in combating trachoma, a chlamydia-related disease. He died of complications of Covid-19.

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

Most Americans became aware of chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease more common than syphilis, gonorrhea and herpes, in the mid-1980s.

But Julius Schachter, a microbiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, had already been studying the bacterium that causes chlamydia for two decades. In fact, the study of chlamydial diseases, along with their diagnosis and treatment, encompassed his entire career.

Dr. Schachter died on Dec. 20 at a hospital in San Francisco. He was 84. The cause was complications of Covid-19, his daughter, Dr. Sara Schachter, said.

Julius Schachter, known as Julie, lived most of the time in Germany. He had flown to the Bay Area in November for Thanksgiving.

His most significant work involved the chlamydia-related disease trachoma, an eye infection that until 1990 was one of the world’s leading infectious causes of blindness. He established the effectiveness of treating it with the mass distribution of the oral antibiotic azithromycin (until then, the disease was treated topically), said Dr. Thomas M. Lietman, the director of the Francis I. Proctor Foundation for Research in Ophthalmology at U.C.S.F. and a longtime colleague of Dr. Schachter’s.

“Everyone in health care is taught that nonspecific antibiotic use is forbidden,” Dr. Lietman said. But in areas where trachoma was regularly found, he added, it was too difficult to determine who exactly was infected. “Julie’s leap was to consider treating the entire community, whether they were infected or not.”

It is expected that trachoma will be eliminated as a public health concern by 2030, thanks in part to Dr. Schachter.

Julius Schachter was born on June 1, 1936, in the Bronx. His father, Sam, was a furrier, and his mother, Mary (Kudisch) Schachter, was a clerk at the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. Julius was the first in his family to attend college.

He received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Columbia University in 1957, his master’s degree in physiology from Hunter College in 1960 and his Ph.D. in bacteriology from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1965.

His first job was as an assistant research microbiologist at U.C.S.F. He spent the next 55 years there.

He married Joyce Poynter, a physical therapist, in 1962. She died in 1990.

Dr. Schachter spent 55 years at the University of California, San Franscisco.
via Schachter family

Dr. Schachter traveled constantly for work and often took his family on international trips, thanks to frequent flier miles, Sara Schachter, a veterinarian, said. She recalled a harrowing incident in 1986, when she and her brother and father were aboard a flight from Rome to Athens and a bomb exploded. Four passengers died after being sucked out of a hole created by the blast. Some oxygen masks were jammed and failed to fall; a calm Dr. Schachter used a pocketknife to pry them loose for fellow passengers.

Dr. Schachter married Elisabeth Scheer, also a microbiologist, in 2018. They lived in Nussloch, Germany. In addition to her and his daughter, Dr. Schachter is survived by a brother, Norbert; two sons, Marc Schachter and Alexander Scheer; and three grandsons.

Dr. Schachter continued to work while hospitalized with Covid-19. Dr. Lietman recounted a conversation they had on the day his friend was being moved to the intensive care unit.

“I’ve got to get out of here,” Dr. Schachter said. “I’ve got to finish these four manuscripts.”

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