Tuesday, March 1, 2016

This Month in Blastocystis Research (FEB 2016) - Rash Edition

A couple of years ago, I contributed to writing up a Case Report on what appeared to be Blastocystis-associated urticaria (hives). Receiving various courses of ineffective antibiotic treatment with a view to eradicating Blastocystis, a woman continued to suffer from gastrointestinal symptoms and generalized urticaria. Only when the infection was eventually successfully eradicated using a combination of metronidazole and paromomycin, the women experienced symptom resolution.

There is a systematic review out just now in the well-esteemed journal "Allergy" on chronic spontaneous urticaria in patients with intestinal parasites. The approach is useful, interesting, and relevant. One of the main results, which was also highlighted in the abstract, is that patients with chronic urticaria more frequently have "Blastocystis hominis allele 34 (ST3)". This observation, however, pertains to one single study, and should be interpreted in this context. The original study was carried out by Rudolfo Daniel Casero and last-authored by a close colleague of mine, Juan David Ramirez, who currently does a lot to promote and improve molecular parasitology research in Latin America; among other things, he's a very successful and avid arranger of workshops. Anyway, the study included observations on Blastocystis in a group of Argentinean patients, who were stratified by the presence or absence of symptoms. Hence, there were four groups, reflecting 1) asymptomatic patients, 2) patients with chronic urticaria, 3) patients with non-specific gastrointestinal symptoms (NSGI), and 4) patients with both chronic urticaria and NSGI. No specific subtype was linked to any of the four groups; however, a very striking observation related to the distribution of ST3 strains across the groups: out of a total of 21 patients positive for ST3 allele 34 (the allele number is used to provide "genotype" information of the subtype), 18 had urticaria. On the other hand, out of 28 patients positive for ST3 allele 134, only 3 had urticaria.

ST3 allele 34 is probably the most common Blastocystis strain overall in many European countries; also in Asia (e.g. India), this genotype particularly common. Although common in South America too, it might not be the most common strain, given the data by Casero et al. These authors are the first to provide a clear association between a Blastocystis strain (i.e., on genotype level) and development of symptoms. Although the data warrant confirmation by prospective studies, the data should be food for thought.

About 20 papers are listed in PubMed on "Blastocystis AND urticaria". Last year, I was so fortunate to host Małgorzata Lepczynska in our lab for a couple of weeks. Incidentally, a review of the role of Blastocystis in the development of urticaria and first-authored by Lepczynska just emerged in PubMed. The authors try to explain the potential mecanisms underlying the development of Blastocystis-induced urticaria. For some reason, the authors did not include a study by Armentia et al. from 1993 (maybe due to the possibility that they had no access the paper?). Armentia presented a case series (n = 10) of Blastocystis patients who all had chronic urticaria; both the parasite and the symptom disappeared upon treatment with paromomycin sulfate.

I am not sure that the data available at this point are sufficient to generate inferences on the contributing role of Blastocystis in the development of urticaria; however, I would not hesitate to encourage dermatologists to look into the issues of "idiopathic chronic urticaria", with a view to clarifying the rate of Blastocystis colonisation among these patients and whether parasite eradication leads to symptom resolution. Such studies should also involve total analysis of the intestinal microbiota, both before and after treatment.


Armentia A, Méndez J, Gómez A, Sanchís E, Fernández A, de la Fuente R, & Sánchez P (1993). Urticaria by Blastocystis hominis. Successful treatment with paromomycin. Allergologia et Immunopathologia, 21 (4), 149-51 PMID: 8237719   

Casero, R., Mongi, F., Sánchez, A., & Ramírez, J. (2015). Blastocystis and urticaria: Examination of subtypes and morphotypes in an unusual clinical manifestation Acta Tropica, 148, 156-161 DOI: 10.1016/j.actatropica.2015.05.004

Kolkhir P, Balakirski G, Merk HF, Olisova O, & Maurer M (2016). Chronic spontaneous urticaria and internal parasites - a systematic review. Allergy, 71 (3), 308-22 PMID: 26648083

Lepczyńska M, Chen WC, & Dzika E (2016). Mysterious chronic urticaria caused by Blastocystis spp.? International Journal of Dermatology, 55 (3), 259-66 PMID: 26469206 

Vogelberg C, Stensvold CR, Monecke S, Ditzen A, Stopsack K, Heinrich-Gräfe U, & Pöhlmann C (2010). Blastocystis sp. subtype 2 detection during recurrence of gastrointestinal and urticarial symptoms. Parasitology International, 59 (3), 469-71 PMID: 20363362