Showing posts with label Dientamoeba fragilis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dientamoeba fragilis. Show all posts

Monday, August 1, 2016

This Month in Blastocystis Research - Interactive Edition

What are your thoughts on Blastocystis carriage and age?

More and more data suggest that the prevalence of Blastocystis carriage increases by age - at least to a certain point.

Some intestinal parasites, such as Cryptosporidium, may not be that uncommon in infants/very young toddlers, while they are much less common in older children and adolescents. Other parasites appear to peak in prevalence around the age of 7, e.g., Dientamoeba fragilis.

Meanwhile, Blastocystis appear to increase in prevalence by age until mature adulthood... why is that? And what does it tell us? Please comment! I'm not having all the answers to these questions myself, and if some interesting suggestions pop up, I'll post them! You only need a Google account to be able to comment. If you don't have one, please send your comment using


For those interested in Blastocystis carriage in association with age, I have listed a couple of relevant recent studies below.


Forsell J, Granlund M, Samuelsson L, Koskiniemi S, Edebro H, & Evengård B (2016). High occurrence of Blastocystis sp. subtypes 1-3 and Giardia intestinalis assemblage B among patients in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Parasites & Vectors, 9 (1) PMID: 27356981  

Poulsen CS, Efunshile AM, Nelson JA, & Stensvold CR (2016). Epidemiological Aspects of Blastocystis Colonization in Children in Ilero, Nigeria. The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 95 (1), 175-9 PMID: 27139454

Sunday, November 1, 2015

This Month in Blastocystis Research (OCT 2015)

I'm actually going to skip the small review I do each month for a variety of reasons. Instead, I'm just going to upload a presentation I gave in Tilburg, The Netherlands, a bit more than a week ago, before attending the UEG Week in Barcelona.

I uploaded it to Google Drive, hoping that it will be easy to download for everyone interested. I have not included any notes, hoping that the slides will be pretty much self-explanatory.

I think there is even a bit of Danish in there, - hope you don't mind! Also, the preview option does not work very well, so make sure you download it.

If the presentation left you wondering a bit and wish for more, why not look up my publications listed in PubMed? They are available here.  Some of them can be downloaded for free.

Thank you for your attention.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

This Month in Blastocystis Research (JUN 2014) - IMECs Edition

In June there was a paper out in Frontiers in Microbiology by Laura W Parfrey and co-workers identifying the diversity of intestinal microbial eukaryotic communities (IMECs) in humans and other mammals. It's probably one of the most interesting papers I've read for a long time; maybe because it expands on many of the things I've been blogging about - or at least intended to blog about (!) - over the past two years.

What the team did was to do comprehensive analysis of IMECs in both humans and mammals using broad specificity primers for PCR and next generation sequencing technology-based sequencing of the PCR products. While I'm not in a position to validate the analysis of the data, I'd just want to highlight the importance of the approach. It is very rare to see this type of analysis, despite the fact that it's probably the best currently available approach to studying the ecology, homeostasis and public health significance of IMECs. Some of these euks have probably co-evolved with humans and other animals over thousands and thousands of years and therefore may constitute part of the habitual/commensal flora; and so a current working hypothesis (Hygiene Theory) is that losing IMECs ('defaunation' due to Western life style (excessive hygiene and changes in diet)) may prove detrimental to human health and may be one of the most important reasons why we develop for instance allergies and other autoimmune diseases.

Blastocystis virtually obligate finding in Malawi citizens?
And indeed, what the authors found was that among 23 study individuals residing in agrarian communities in Malawi, Blastocystis and Entamoeba were almost obligate findings (not found in two infants, but apart from that almost a consistent finding), while none of the 13 (somewhat age-matched) study individuals from Boulder, Colorado, were infected with Blastocystis, and only two individuals had Entamoeba coli. I was surprised to read that Dientamoeba was not detected in any of the populations; it appears that there is a strong geographical component to the distribution of this parasite, but as the authors mention, specific tools are needed to confirm the absence.

The funny thing is that although this is not a paper specifically on Blastocystis, it is probably the most interesting surveys on Blastocystis coming from the US and a very valuable Blastocystis. Data on Blastocystis in this country is really scarce, but if the prevalence of the parasite is really as low as indicated in this study, then it's maybe quite understandable! And maybe (and this is a highly presumptuous 'maybe', I know) Blastocystis might even therefore an emerging pathogen in the US? When was the US experiencing the great IMECs wipe out? Can it be confirmed? Is there - within the US - also a strong geographical compoenent to the prevalence of IMECs?

Anyway, there are many interesting observations in the paper - and please visit the supporting files. Blastocystis ST11 was confirmed in an elephant (which also hosted Entamoeba moshkovskii! Probably first report of this parasite in an animal). ST13 was found in a Gazelle; not surprisingly, but nice to see independent data confirming what few researchers have found until now. ST4 was found in a sheep and in Okapis; when it comes to ST4, I'm hardly surprised about anything; it appears to be such a sporadic finding in a diversity of non-human hosts (i.e. low host specificity and incidental); one sheep also had ST8, a subtype almost exclusively seen in non-human primates (even South American monkeys rather than for instance African monkeys and apes), so this was surprising too. ST8 was moreover found in two kangaroos (not the first time), in an okapi (different from two first ones) which also hosted ST12, and in an armadillo!

Take home messages include:

1) The study is one of the first to virtually survey IMECs in human and non-human faecal samples using NGS tools.
2) The study confirms a very high prevalence of Blastocystis in some sub-Saharan African communities (for more on this, see a previous blog post), and interestingly, the prevalence and co-infection rate of (up to four species of) Entamoeba was comparably high.
3) Data suggest that IMECs in Western populations are highly reduced compared to rural African populations, but we still need to know more about the relative distribution of for instance fungi and whether these fungi are actually colonising the gut or just carry over from ingested food; right now, it seems as if there might be an inverse relationship between fungal and non-fungal IMECs... something that we can hopefully soon gather sufficient data on for publishing.
4) For those interested in Blastocystis subtype data, including host specificity and geographical distribution, there is a lot to look at in the paper (including supplementary files).

There's a lot more to be said about this paper, but I will sort of leave it here. But please go and read it!


Parfrey, L., Walters, W., Lauber, C., Clemente, J., Berg-Lyons, D., Teiling, C., Kodira, C., Mohiuddin, M., Brunelle, J., Driscoll, M., Fierer, N., Gilbert, J., & Knight, R. (2014). Communities of microbial eukaryotes in the mammalian gut within the context of environmental eukaryotic diversity Frontiers in Microbiology, 5 DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2014.00298

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Parasite-Microbiota-Host Interactions

One of the current mantras in microbiology is that 'bacterial cells in the human body outnumber human cells 10 to one'. This has been known for a long time, but I guess that the main reason why this is being hyped nowadays is due to the fact that current technologies now enable us to look at entire microbial communities in a given ecological niche at any time point and how for instance they relate to health and disease.

Casadevall and Pirofski already made this point clear back in 2000 in their great minireview in the journal Infection and Immunity on 'Host-Pathogen Interactions: Basic Concepts of Microbial Commensalism, Colonization, Infection, and Disease'. This is a great paper that helps us understand and distinguish between the many ways microbes impact on our body. First and foremost, it allows us to understand that microbes can be commensals in some hosts but cause disease in other hosts, and that very few microbes are obligate pathogens.

Anatomical drawing of abdomen, ca. 1900 (Elisa Schorn). Source.

Commensalism is defined by these authors as 'a state of infection that results in either no damage or clinically inapparent damage to the host, though it can elicit an immune response'. And a commensal is a 'microbe that induces either no damage or clinically inapparent damage after primary infection; a state that is thought to be established early in life'. In terms of the antibody response, 'it is not known whether these immune responses reflect the occurrence of an unidentified form of damage to the host'. Importantly, 'commensals also synthesise metabolites that are essential nutrients for the host'.

According to Casadevall and Pirofski, colonisation is 'a state of infection that results in a continuum of damage from none to great, with the latter leading to the induction of host responses that could eliminate or retain the microbe, or progress to chronicity or disease; for organisms that induce no damage during infection this state is indistinguishable from commensalism'.

I guess that to this end comes the concept of tolerance...Some single-celled parasites are common in young mammals such as calves and lambs (for instance Cryptosporidium and - it appears - microsporidia (unpublished data)), but appear to be cleared by host immune response mechanisms, while other parasites are establishing chronic colonisation, - parasites such as Entamoeba and Blastocystis. The latter parasites may also colonise humans for years on end... So why do we not eliminate these parasites? Blaser writes back in 1997: 'Failure to eliminate the parasite implies that the cost to the host is greater than the benefit. This may be due to high costs (e.g., loss of vital (...) functions), or significant benefits (e.g., protection against lethal diseases), or that both cost and benefit are relatively low'.

In Blastocystis research most scientists appear to be preoccupied by identifying a role for Blastocystis in disease, driven by the black and white concept that either it's pathogenic or not... or at least that if it can cause disease, it's by definition a pathogen! I think the paper by Casadevall and Pirofski shows with great clarity why we should try and take a much more differentiated view on Blastocystis and it's role in health and disease.

As mentioned in a previous blog post, Blastocystis is practically an obligate finding in some societies, while more rare in others. In some communities it may be common to contract it in very early childhood (infants/toddlers), while in other communities you may not be infected or infected only in adulthood. In Denmark, the prevalence in the healthy adult population is about 30%, and there may be countries where the prevalence is even lower - typically in regions, where the general population has been 'intestinally defaunated' (presumably due to excessive hygiene combined with a Westernised diet). And so, in some places this parasite is getting so uncommon that it may at some point become a cause of disease, a so-called 'emerging pathogen'... Conjectural maybe, but still not far fetched.

Simultaneously, evidence is emerging that intestinal microbial eukaryotes (Blastocystis and Dientamoeba fragilis) are significantly more common in healthy individuals than in patients with gastrointestinal disease such as IBS and - especially - IBD, suggesting that these parasites are protective of functional and organic bowel disease. Do they prime our immune system in a beneficial way? Do they select for beneficial bacteria? Do they keep potential harmful microbial intruders at bay? Could they be synthesising metabolites beneficial to the host just like ciliates involved in fermentation processes in the large intestine of various herbivorous mammals?

This is why the exploration of the structure and function of intestinal pro- and eukaryotic communities is so important. For instance, can we link Blastocystis to any intestinal microbial patterns? At our lab, we think we can, and it's something that we will try and explore further (if funding can be obtained). Our null hypotheses include the following:

1) The distribution of pro- and eukaryotes is random (for instance: Blastocystis is not statistically associated with the presence of particular bacteria or other eukaryotes (fungi, parasites)).

2) The introduction of a Blastocystis strain into an intestinal microbial niche does not cause alteration of the composition of the pro- and eukaryotic flora. This can be studied using an animal model, and it is tempting to try and study host immunological parameters during and after challenge with Blastocystis. Also gene expression in both host and microbial communities could be studied.

Take home message is that we should be cautious with regard to deeming a parasite as being either 'pathogenic' or 'non-pathogenic'... parasites may have a multitude of functions and may impact their hosts in a variety of ways that together with all other types of impact from and interactions with other microorganisms (microbiota) results in a health/disease matrix in every single individual.

Finally: Here's to pageview # 200,000! See you in Boston on Sunday morning at the #ASM2014 conference: Passion for Parasites !


Blaser, M. (1997). Ecology of Helicobacter pylori in the human stomach. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 100 (4), 759-762 DOI: 10.1172/JCI119588  

Casadevall, A., & Pirofski, L. (2000). Host-Pathogen Interactions: Basic Concepts of Microbial Commensalism, Colonization, Infection, and Disease. Infection and Immunity, 68 (12), 6511-6518 DOI: 10.1128/IAI.68.12.6511-6518.2000

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

This Month in Blastocystis Research (NOV 2013)

Few commercial kits are available for detection of Blastocystis. One of them is the ParaFlorB kit developed by Boulder Diagnostics which uses a monoclonal antibody to detect Blastocystis-specific antigen. We are currently testing this kit in our lab, and I hope to be able to get back with a summary of our experience once the evaluation has finished. Another kit is the EasyScreenTM Enteric Parasite Detection Kit (Genetic Signatures, Sydney, Australia), which was recently evaluated by some of my Australian colleagues (Stark et al., 2013). In this case, Blastocystis has been included in a panel testing for 5 parasitic genera, the other ones being Giardia, Cryptosporidium, Entamoeba, and Dientamoeba, which makes it interesting in a clinical microbiology context, - at least for research purposes.

It can certainly be discussed whether both Dientamoeba and Blastocystis should be part of routine screening for single-celled intestinal parasites. For some years, we have included Dientamoeba in a PCR panel also consisting of Cryptosporidium, Giardia and Entamoeba, but we are about to remove it from this panel. This does not mean that we will not be testing for Dientamoeba; it only means that we will offer testing for Dientamoeba as a separate analysis, in line with our tests for Blastocystis.

According to the study, the kit performs quite well with the only major impediment being the fact that it does not enable differentiation between pathogenic and apathogenic species of Entamoeba; another drawback is the fact that it does not enable detection of the more rare protozoa, such as Cystoisospora and Cyclospora (and I would also mention microsporidia and maybe Balantidium coli). Also, I might be a little worried that the kit will not pick up all species and genotypes of Cryptosporidium, - in fact little was done to challenge the kit in the evaluation. Regarding Cryptosporidium, only C. hominis and C. parvum were tested. In Sweden, at least 10% of all human cryptosporidiosis is due to non-hominis and non-parvum species and genotypes. This is an observation that has led me to revisit our own Cryptosporidium real-time PCR. With help from Welsh and Swedish colleagues I managed to establish quite a broad panel of different Cryptosporidium species and genotypes, and much to my surprise, our 'old' real-time PCR failed to detect the vast majority of these... which means that this Cryptosporidium PCR was far from genus-specific. So, I set out to design a genus-specific PCR which is now being integrated with our Giardia real-time PCR in a duplex assay.
Anyway, similar to Cryptosporidium, many species of Blastocystis - the so-called subtypes - can colonise and infect humans. In the evaluation of the EasyScreen kit, only subtypes 1, 3, and 4 were used to challenge the kit, and so, it is not known whether the kit also detects other subtypes found in humans (ST2, ST5, ST6, ST7, ST8, and ST9).

For those interested in these diagnostic multiplex systems, please also visit a previous blog post.

Anastasios Tsaousis and his Canadian group in Halifax had a paper out just now in Eukaryotic Cell expanding their work on the evolution of the cytosolic iron/sulfur cluster assembly machinery in Blastocystis spp. and other microbial eukaryotes. This type of work is crucial for obtaining a deeper understanding of the metabolism of Blastocystis and to understand how it has evolved and how it potentially differs from other eukaryotes.  Apparently, Iron-sulfur cluster-containing proteins and their biosynthetic machinery in single-celled parasites are remarkably different from those in their mammalian hosts and they therefore represent a potentially relevant target for the development of novel chemotherapeutic and prophylactic agents against parasite infections. For those interested in iron-sulfur clusters in protists in general, a review was published in Advances in Parasitology some weeks ago (please see cited literature).

There is paper out on fasciolosis and co-infections, including Blastocystis, and in that paper it appears that nitazoxanide may be able to eradicate Blastocystis. However, only three persons were treated, and I'm not sure that the diagnostic tests used would have picked up light infections of Blastocystis.

Speaking of treatment: Another paper has appeared from the highly productive team in Sydney, - this time on treatment failure in patients with chronic Blastocystis infection and first-authored by Ms Tamalee Roberts, whom I was so fortunate to spend some time with during the recent congress in Copenhagen. The paper is a little difficult to follow, particularly since nothing is mentioned in the Materials and Methods section on the choice of treatment and treatment strategies in general, but then again, the paper is based on a string of individual (groups of) cases with different kinds of treatment approaches and various backgrounds. I really like the fact that the authors are looking at multiple cases and also that have included a few patients receiving the Triple Therapy (nitazoxanide, furazolidone, secnidazole), which appears to have no major clinical efficacy. The paper also confirms the uselessness of metronidazole when it comes to eradicating Blastocystis. What I could have wished for is that the authors had been able to pursue the microbiological effect of treatment in each of the cases; only in some cases do we get to know about clearance/persistence of Blastocystis. Also, here at the SSI we sometimes wonder, whether persistence of symptoms after treatment may in some cases reflect adverse effects of the treatment (including perturbation of intestinal flora), in which case even randomised controlled treatment (RCT) studies are difficult to design and interpret, unless very clear case definitions and inclusion criteria are available. Hence, for RCT studies I think it is pertinent only to include patients with very similar symptoms (and possibly microbiomes!); given the prevalence of Blastocystis, this shouldn't be too difficult.

Regarding my most recent blog post, I have noticed that it caused quite a stir! I did anticipate some kerfuffle though. But fact is that we have gradually been able to collect so much data from different, independent studies, and the trend appears clear. We now need to investigate what this means, and whether this is something that can be exploited.

There will be no DEC 2013 version of 'This Month in Blastocystis Research' - instead I plan on doing a 'Blastocystis Highlights in 2013' post in line with last year's. Suggestions for significant papers/contributions are welcome!

Cited literature:

Ali V, & Nozaki T (2013). Iron-sulphur clusters, their biosynthesis, and biological functions in protozoan parasites. Advances in Parasitology, 83, 1-92 PMID: 23876871

Roberts T, Ellis J, Harkness J, Marriott D, & Stark D (2013). Treatment failure in patients with chronic Blastocystis infection. Journal of Medical Microbiology PMID: 24243286

Stark D, Roberts T, Ellis JT, Marriott D, & Harkness J (2013). Evaluation of the EasyScreen™ Enteric Parasite Detection Kit for the detection of Blastocystis spp., Cryptosporidium spp., Dientamoeba fragilis, Entamoeba complex, and Giardia intestinalis from clinical stool samples. Diagnostic Microbiology and Infectious Disease PMID: 24286625

Tsaousis AD, Gentekaki E, Eme L, Gaston D, & Roger AJ (2013). Evolution of the Cytosolic Iron/Sulfur cluster Assembly machinery in Blastocystis sp. and other microbial eukaryotes. Eukaryotic Cell PMID: 24243793
Zumaquero-Ríos JL, Sarracent-Pérez J, Rojas-García R, Rojas-Rivero L, Martínez-Tovilla Y, Valero MA, & Mas-Coma S (2013). Fascioliasis and intestinal parasitoses affecting schoolchildren in atlixco, puebla state, Mexico: epidemiology and treatment with nitazoxanide. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 7 (11) PMID: 24278492

Friday, November 22, 2013

Do IBS Patients Lack Blastocystis and Dientamoeba??

I feel like sharing data from a poster created by one of my colleagues, Dr Laura Rindom Krogsgaard who works at Køge Sygehus, Denmark. She presented the poster last month at the United European Gastrointestinal (UEG) Week in Berlin.

Laura is currently doing a very interesting survey on IBS and IBS-like symptoms in Danish individuals. Her first publication was on the epidemiology of IBS in Denmark (see literature list below). She performed a web-based survey, using YouGov Zapera, and questionnaires were emailed to a web panel (n = 19,567) representative of the general Danish population aged 18-50 years containing info on gender, age, geography and type of intestinal symptoms (if any). IBS and subtypes were estimated by the Rome III criteria. Of 6,112 responders, 979 (16%) fulfilled the Rome III criteria for IBS and had no organic diagnosis likely to explain their symptoms. IBS subtypes detected included  mixed IBS (36%), IBS with diarrhea (33%), IBS with constipation (18%), and unsubtyped IBS (11%).

At the Laboratory of Parasitology, we helped Laura analyse stool samples from survey participants for parasites. Not surprisingly, Blastocystis and Dientamoeba were by far the most common parasites detected; however, it appeared that individuals with IBS symptoms were less likely to be colonised by these parasites than their controls! Which means that we have a situation reminiscent of that seen in IBD patients, only less pronounced. 

Laura was able to survey symptom developement over 1 year and compare this to the incidence of Blastocystis and Dientamoeba, and none of the parasites (indvidually or in co-infection) were linked to symptom development.

Indeed, Laura's data are in line with the general tendency that we see for Blastocystis (see figure below). Blastocystis appears to be rare in individuals with perturbation of the intestinal microbiota (due to antibiotic treatment, inflammation, infection, diet, etc.), while common in healthy individuals, most of whom are probably characterised by high gut microbial diversity and thereby - apparently - the right substrate/growth conditions for Blastocystis.


Krogsgaard LR, Engsbro AL, & Bytzer P (2013). The epidemiology of irritable bowel syndrome in Denmark. A population-based survey in adults ≤50 years of age. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, 48 (5), 523-9 PMID: 23506174

The entire poster "Dientamoeba fragilis and Blastocystis: Two parasites the irritable bowel might be missing" presented at the UEGweek can be viewed here via SlideShare.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

This Month in Blastocystis Research (OCT 2013)

Thanks to Google Scholar and PubMed feeds I can keep myself relatively up-to-date with emerging Blastocystis data and 'breaking news' in the field.

One of things that have caught my attention recently, is the string of foodborne outbreaks in Sweden, due to Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora and microsporidia stemming from (presumably) imported produce. A few of my colleagues (Robertsen et al., in press) have just published a large review on the impact of globalisation on foodborne parasites - a resource that has been a long time coming, and which I hope will be read and contemplated by many. The review includes a table on parasites isolated from fresh produce (for some reason the Swedish data was not included), and among these is Blastocystis, which was identified in fresh produce from Saudi Arabia (original data published by Al-Binali et al., 2006). Apart from this, hardly any data is out there on Blastocystis in the environment, and we therefore still know very little about potential sources of transmission and how we are exposed.

In Clinical Microbiology and Infection there is a paper out by Mass et al. on detection of intestinal protozoa in paediatric patients with gastrointestinal symptoms by multiplex real-time PCR. Not surprisingly, the study is from The Netherlands, the cradle of real-time PCR-based parasite diagnostics in clinical microbiology. It's a great paper despite all its limitations, but I couldn't figure out which Blastocystis PCR they used for the study, - I think the authors failed to provide a reference for it. Anyway, the authors found 30% of the children colonised by Blastocystis, while Dientamoeba fragilis was found in a staggering 62%, which is more or less equivalent to what we see in Denmark in this type of cohort (please refer to previous blog post on Dientamoeba fragilis). It appeared that symptom resolution was just as common in patients who were treated with different antibiotics as in patients who were not treated, and the authors end up by highlighting the fact that it is still difficult to know whom and when to test for these parasites, and when to treat them.

In Mexico, Sanchez-Aguillon and colleagues have documented a very nice study on parasitic infections in a Mexican HIV/AIDS cohort. Quite a few of the patients had Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora or Cystoisospora, the presence of which was - not surprisingly - associated with diarrhoea. Table 1 in the paper is a bit confusing, but I believe that Blastocystis was found in about 30%; of note, only ST1 and ST3 were found, adding further support to the hypothesis that ST1 and ST3 are common in most parts of the world, while especially ST4 exhibits vast differences in geographic 'affinity'. The authors end their paper by saying
"Other molecular markers for Blastocystis ST should be studied to elucidate the complexity of this heterogeneous genus and its role in human disease."
Let me just add that subtype identification is a valid proxy for intra-generic diversity in Blastocystis, - we have been looking at mitochondrial genomes and found that analyses based on mitochondrial markers and ribosomal genes reveal similar phylogenetic relationships. So, in terms of transmission and epidemiology in general, the subtyping system ('barcoding') is highly applicable and robust. It is true, however, that we need to see if we can identify specific genes potentially responsible for pathogenesis. The Mexican paper can be accessed here.

There's a very nice paper out now from the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute and University of Basel on differential diagnoses of common dermatological problems in returning travellers. Blastocystis has been included in the list (in the section on allergic skin reactions/urticaria) together with a plethora of other infectious agents. Lots of informative images there, and the paper has a nice structure.

Despite loads of daily feeds, a lot of papers relevant to Blastocystis research still escape my attention. I realise that there was a paper out in PLoS Genetics in June on Saprolegnia parasitica (an oomocyte parasitising on fish) which appears to be a good and interesting read. Maybe I'll come back to this one!

For me personally, this month in Blastocystis research has been a month of putting together grant proposals - more so now than usual -, many initiatives are being taken, networks are being expanded, and interesting data are accumulating from various projects... I hope to be back with details on some of this soon!


Maas L, Dorigo-Zetsma JW, de Groot CJ, Bouter S, Plötz FB, & van Ewijk BE (2013). Detection of intestinal protozoa in paediatric patients with gastrointestinal symptoms by multiplex real-time PCR. Clinical Microbiology and Infection : the official publication of the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases PMID: 24131443

Fabiola Sanchez-Aguillon, Eduardo Lopez-Escamilla, Francisco Velez-Perez, Williams Arony Martinez-Flores, Patricia Rodriguez-Zulueta, Joel Martinez-Ocaña, Fernando Martinez-Hernandez, Mirza Romero-Valdovinos, Pablo Maravilla (2013). Parasitic infections in a Mexican HIV/AIDS cohort. The Journal of Infection in Developing Countries PMID: 24129632 

Neumayr A, Hatz C, Blum J. In Press. Not be missed! Differential Diagnoses of Common Dermatological Problems in Returning Travellers. Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease.

Robertson LJ, Sprong H, Ortega YR, van der Giessen JW, Fayer R. In Press. Impact of globalisation on foodborne parasites. Trends in Parasitology

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dying to know about Dientamoeba?

It's difficult to say 'Blastocystis' without saying 'Dientamoeba fragilis'. Both parasites tend to be extremely common in countries where other intestinal parasites (e.g. Entamoeba, Giardia, Cryptosporidium) are of low endemic occurrence, and they are often seen together in patient samples. It is only due to the recent introduction of DNA-based diagnostic methods (PCR) that we now know that these parasites are much more common than previously anticipated.

So, while I'm trying to encourage guest bloggers, I thought I'd introduce a 'guest star' - Dientamoeba!

Dientamoeba fragilis trophozoites with the characteristic binucleated feature.
The parasite belongs to the trichomonads, which also comprise parasites such as Histomonas meleagridis (the cause of 'blackhead disease' in turkeys) and - more distantly - Trichomonas vaginalis.

At our Parasitology Lab at Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen we have been using real-time PCR for specific detection of Dientamoeba fragilis in faecal samples from patients with gastrointestinal symptoms for quite a few years now. In the period of 2008-2011 we analysed 22,484 stool samples for D. fragilis. The overall prevalence of the parasite in these samples was 43% but depended mainly on age (Figure 1). D. fragilis prevalence appears to fluctuate dramatically depending on the age group. Highest prevalence was seen among 7-year-olds, and a second 'peak' is seen in the parental age suggesting that infected children pass on infections to their parents. 

Figure 1:  Prevalence of D. fragilis as a function of age. (For more information, see Röser et al., 2013b).

Intestinal protozoa are transmitted faecal-orally and most of them have a cyst stage. However, a few protozoa appear not to have a cyst stage, among them D. fragilis. There is a lot of evidence that Histomonas meleagridis is transmitted by eggs of Heterakis gallinae, a nematode of galliform birds. Conspicuously, we recently demonstrated the presence of D. fragilis DNA in surface-sterilised eggs of Enterobius vermicularis (pinworm). The implications of this finding are unclear but could suggest a similar vector-borne transmission of D. fragilis.

As in so many other situations it is not possible to dish out simple guidelines as to when to test for and treat D. fragilis. It is clear that many carriers experience few or no symptoms at all, but there are several case reports demonstrating symptom relief in patients eradicated of D. fragilis. We published one such case recently in 'Ugeskrift for Læger' - the journal of the Danish Medical Association. Basically, the report describes lasting symptom relief after documented eradication of D. fragilis using high dose metronidazole. However, the patient's symptoms returned after a year, and  real-time PCR revealed D. fragilis positive stools. Eradication was achieved using paromomycin (250 mg x 3 for nine days).

Contrary to Blastocystis, this parasite exhibits remarkably limited genetic diversity. We recently analysed three different genetic loci (18S, actin, elongation factor 1-alpha), and we confirmed that only 2 genotypes exist, one of which is very rare. Genetically, however, the two genotypes are quite different, and it will be interesting to compare the nuclear genomes of the two, once they have become available.

Dientamoeba has been speculated to be a neglected cause/differential diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). We once found a statistical significant association between IBS and Dientamoeba; however, other more recent and more targeted studies (one of which is ongoing) have not confirmed this association. However, multiple factors could interact and analysing only simple associations such as symptoms related to parasite presence/absence may be a limiting approach; for instance, infection load/intensity may play a role, and other factors such as host genetics/susceptibility and microbiota ecology may be significant factors influencing on clinical outcome as well. On that note, we have observed some very low Ct values in our real-time PCR results for some of our D. fragilis positive patients, suggesting massive infections. D. fragilis infections are probably often long lasting (months), and if symptoms appear in the initial phase of infection only, cross-sectional studies of prevalence and clinical presentation will be potentially misleading. Large longitudinal cohort studies of pre-school children with monitoring of incidence of pinworm and D. fragilis infections would be extremely informative.

Dr Dennis Röser here at the SSI is currently finishing a randomised controlled treatment trial of D. fragilis in children, testing the clinical efficacy of metronidazole treatment versus placebo. Results are expected next year, so watch out for a 'D. fragilis special' by Dr Röser in 2014! It appears a lot easier to eradicate D. fragilis than Blastocystis - at least on a short term basis with metronidazole having an efficacy of about 70% or so (unconfirmed).

A couple of reviews free for download are available; please see literature list below or go here and here.

Suggested literature

Engsbro AL, Stensvold CR, Nielsen HV, & Bytzer P (2012). Treatment of Dientamoeba fragilis in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 87 (6), 1046-52 PMID: 23091195   

Johnson EH, Windsor JJ, & Clark CG (2004). Emerging from obscurity: biological, clinical, and diagnostic aspects of Dientamoeba fragilis. Clinical Microbiology Reviews, 17 (3) PMID: 15258093

Ogren J, Dienus O, Löfgren S, Iveroth P, & Matussek A (2013). Dientamoeba fragilis DNA detection in Enterobius vermicularis eggs. Pathogens and Disease PMID: 23893951  

Röser D, Nejsum P, Carlsgart AJ, Nielsen HV, & Stensvold CR (2013a). DNA of Dientamoeba fragilis detected within surface-sterilized eggs of Enterobius vermicularis. Experimental Parasitology, 133 (1), 57-61 PMID: 23116599   

Röser D, Simonsen J, Nielsen HV, Stensvold CR, & Mølbak K (2013b). Dientamoeba fragilis in Denmark: epidemiological experience derived from four years of routine real-time PCR. European Journal of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases : official publication of the European Society of Clinical Microbiology, 32 (10), 1303-10 PMID: 23609513  

Stark DJ, Beebe N, Marriott D, Ellis JT, & Harkness J (2006). Dientamoebiasis: clinical importance and recent advances. Trends in Parasitology, 22 (2), 92-6 PMID: 16380293  

Stark D, Barratt J, Roberts T, Marriott D, Harkness J, & Ellis J (2010). A review of the clinical presentation of dientamoebiasis. The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 82 (4), 614-9 PMID: 20348509

Stensvold CR, Clark CG, & Röser D (2013). Limited intra-genetic diversity in Dientamoeba fragilis housekeeping genes. Infection, Genetics and Evolution : journal of molecular epidemiology and evolutionary genetics in infectious diseases, 18, 284-6 PMID: 23681023

Stensvold CR, Lewis HC, Hammerum AM, Porsbo LJ, Nielsen SS, Olsen KE, Arendrup MC, Nielsen HV, & Mølbak K (2009). Blastocystis: unravelling potential risk factors and clinical significance of a common but neglected parasite. Epidemiology and infection, 137 (11), 1655-63 PMID: 19393117

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Blastocystis and IBD

We recently published what could be seen as a pilot study on inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and the two most common intestinal parasites, Blastocystis and Dientamoeba fragilis.

The aim of the study was to identify possible differences in the prevalence of infection with Blastocystis and D. fragilis in patients with active and inactive IBD compared to controls.

We included 100 Danish patients with IBD (42 with Crohn's Disease, 41 with ulcerative colitis and 17 with ileal pouch-anal anastomosis) and 96 controls, used state-of-the-art diagnostics for Blastocystis and D. fragilis (PCR) and we saw striking differences in prevalence. While 19% of all healthy individuals had Blastocystis, only 5% of those with IBD had Blastocystis, and of the 42 patients with Crohn's Disease, only 1 had Blastocystis. In contrast, D. fragilis was not more common in healthy individuals than in IBD patients. Also, in patients with ulcerative colitis, Blastocystis was significantly more common in patients with inactive disease compared to patients with active disease.

Absence of Blastocystis in patients with Crohn's Disease and active ulcerative colitis may be due to unfavourable conditions for colonisation and should be explored further in order to investigate whether these potentially unfavourable conditions reflect differences in the composition of the microbiota in these patients, and/or whether this has something to do with host immunity. We are currently confirming the virtual absence of Blastocystis in Crohn's patients in another study based on metagenomic analysis of faecal DNA, and it will be very interesting to analyse the differences in Blastocystis prevalence in view of potential differences in bacterial communities.

The literature on Blastocystis and IBD is relatively limited, and I plan to return, maybe later this year, with a more elaborate post on the topic.


Petersen AM, Stensvold CR, Mirsepasi H, Engberg J, Friis-Møller A, Porsbo LJ, Hammerum AM, Nordgaard-Lassen I, Nielsen HV, & Krogfelt KA (2013). Active ulcerative colitis associated with low prevalence of Blastocystis and Dientamoeba fragilis infection. Scandinavian journal of gastroenterology PMID: 23528075

Saturday, November 10, 2012

How Hard Can It Be?

How strange the world of clinical microbiology is when you compare the fields of mycology, parasitology, bacteriology and virology to each other. Such different possibilities, opportunities, limitations, and diagnostic challenges! The 3 month mortality rate of invasive aspergillosis, a disease mainly caused by Aspergillus fumigatus and seen in mainly patients with haematological malignancies, patients undergoing allogenic HSCT and patients in ICUs, may be as high as 60%, and therefore a quick and reliable diagnosis is mandatory to secure timely therapeutic intervention. But, - Aspergillus fumigatus happens to be ubiquitous, and contamination of patient samples, whether blood or airway samples, may always be a potential cause of false-positive test results, and one of the reasons why the use of PCR as a first line diagnostic tool in routine mycology labs is still limited. Antigen tests, such as the Galactomannan antigen test, which also allow quick diagnosis can also be false-positive, not only due to sample contamination, but also due to galactomannan residues in medical compounds, such as the widely applied antibiotic Tazocin (piperacillin-tazobactam), which means that patients who have been given this drug and who submit a blood sample for galactomannan testing may test slightly positive even in the absence of an Aspergillus infection.
These are only some classical examples. In the field of mycology, positive predictive values (PPV; i.e. what is the probability of disease given a positive test result) are sometimes unacceptably low, and the lower the prevalence of the disease, the lower the PPV. This means that you need a lot of experience and knowledge on pre-test-probability + data from clinical and diagnostic work-ups, including anamnestic details, to determine whether or not the patient should receive therapy, such as treatment with voriconazole, -  a relatively expensive drug.

Aspergillus fumigatus - the most common cause of invasive aspergillosis - on blood agar.

In the parasitology lab, however, things are quite different. Contamination of patient samples is rarely an issue, and in most cases not possible at all (disregarding DNA contamination of course). Specificity of microscopy is very often very high (close to 100%), which means that the PPV is very high even in cases where the disease is rare. Hence, if cysts of Giardia have been detected in your stool, it's due to the presence of the parasite in your body. It's a bit more tricky with PCR-based analyses, where the specificity does not rely on your ability to visually distinguish between e.g. Giardia and non-Giardia elements, but where it's all about designing oligos that anneal only to Giardia-DNA.
While in the mycology lab we struggle with low PPVs, one of the biggest challenges for me and my colleagues in the parasitology lab is to optimise the negative predictive value (NPV) of a faecal parasite diagnostic work-up - how can we rule out parasitic disease by cost-effectively putting together a panel of as few tests as possible?

There are many other differences. For instance, you can grow bacteria and fungi in the lab very easily, in fact, culture of bacteria and fungi is an essential diagnostic tool, which also allows you to submit the strain to antibiotic or antimycotic susceptibility testing and molecular characterisation/MALDI-TOF analysis in case you are not sure about the species ID. So, you have the strains right there in front of you, on agar plates, and they grow and grow, and you can keep them for as long as you like, - clean, non-contaminated strains on selective media.
You can't really do that with parasites, not nearly to the same extent and as easily, that is. For instance, you can culture Blastocystis directly from stool for sure (go here for the protocol), but only in the presence of bacteria (some of my colleagues do actually now and then manage to grow strains of Blastocystis in the absence of bacteria, they obtain what is called "axenic" cultures, but I believe that they cannot do it consistently and in limited time.). And it's a pity, since there is so much you can do when you have "clean" patient strains. Apart from susceptibility testing (which would actually be a bit difficult since Blastocystis is strictly anaerobic, so you can't really have it in microtiter plates or on RPMI plates on the table in front of you, but the strains could be challenged in the growth tubes), you can also extract DNA, and you would know that all the DNA that you extract from the isolate is from that particular strain, and not from bacterial contaminants. You can use the strain for production of antigens which can be used in ELISAs and used to generate mono- and polyclonal antibodies... Sequencing genomes of various subtypes would be a lot easier and quicker, and so on...

So, what appears obvious in one field of microbiology is not as obvious in another field, and vice versa. I wish Blastocystis was much easier to isolate. Dientamoeba too. Dientamoeba is probably as common as Blastocystis, and not rarely seen in co-infections. It is strange to contemplate that a parasite infecting hundreds of millions of people has not yet had its genome sequenced? We have no clue when it comes to effector proteins in Dientamoeba, and also for this parasite, what we know about its clinical significance relies mainly on epidemiological data.

There is no doubt that concerted efforts of experienced scientists should make it possible to develop appropriate and relevant culture protocols for these parasites. It does, however, require a lot of resources and time to get to know these common, but oh so fragile and reclusive little creatures...

Further reading:
Clark CG, & Diamond LS (2002). Methods for cultivation of luminal parasitic protists of clinical importance. Clinical microbiology reviews, 15 (3), 329-41 PMID: 12097242

Verweij PE, Kema GH, Zwaan B, & Melchers WJ (2012). Triazole fungicides and the selection of resistance to medical triazoles in the opportunistic mould Aspergillus fumigatus. Pest management science PMID: 23109245

Stensvold, C., Jørgensen, L., & Arendrup, M. (2012). Azole-Resistant Invasive Aspergillosis: Relationship to Agriculture Current Fungal Infection Reports, 6 (3), 178-191 DOI: 10.1007/s12281-012-0097-7

Maertens J, Theunissen K, Verhoef G, & Van Eldere J (2004). False-positive Aspergillus galactomannan antigen test results. Clinical infectious diseases : an official publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, 39 (2), 289-90 PMID: 15307045
Munasinghe VS, Stark D, & Ellis JT (2012). New advances in the in-vitro culture of Dientamoeba fragilis. Parasitology, 139 (7), 864-9 PMID: 22336222

Friday, October 26, 2012

The "Flagyl" Poll

For some reason the "Flagyl" poll in the right side bar of this blog was reset; the number of votes was approaching 100. The question was

"For those who have received metronidazole (Flagyl or Protostat) treatment for Blastocystis, please indicate whether you experienced no, transient or permanent improvement (or none of the above)"

The interesting thing is that there was a tie between "no improvement" and "transient improvement", and although this poll could have been heavily biased in numerous ways, it is still completely in line with our experience: Many patients report transient alleviation of symptoms, while others have no clinical benefit from Flagyl. Flagyl is an antibiotic targeting a wide range of bacteria and single-celled parasites. It is sometimes successful in terms of eradicating Dientamoeba fragilis, one of the most common parasites in the human intestine, and a parasite which may cause symptoms especially in children (we are currently conducting a randomised control clinical trial at Statens Serum Institut to explore clinical and microbiological effect of metronidazole treatment of children with D. fragilis).

Many people will get diagnosed with Blastocystis without knowing whether they might also be positive for D. fragilis (and vice versa). It is a complex situation, since both parasites are common, they are difficult to detect unless you use PCR or other specialised analyses, and in most labs they are not tested for on a routine basis. And if they happen to be part of the panel of organisms that is tested for, it may be so that insensitive methods are used for their detection, which means that only a fraction of the cases will be detected. So, this is a bit of a conundrum in itself!

So, it's not easy to know what causes the temporary alleviation in some patients. Is it due to parasite recrudescence? Is it due to parasite eradication with subsequent re-infection? And which parasite? Blastocystis? Dientamoeba? Any others? Or, is it due to perturbation of the intestinal flora in a "positive" direction, which is then gradually going back to normal? Placebo effect? There are possibly many more explanations...

However, deep sequencing of faecal samples pre- and post treatment of parasite-positive patients will probably answer many of our questions...

Engsbro AL, Stensvold CR, Nielsen HV, & Bytzer P (2012). Treatment of Dientamoeba fragilis in Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The American journal of tropical medicine and hygiene PMID: 23091195

Engsbro AL, & Stensvold CR (2012). Blastocystis: to treat or not to treat ... But how? Clinical infectious diseases : an official publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, 55 (10), 1431-2 PMID: 22893582