Showing posts with label Prevalence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Prevalence. Show all posts

Friday, December 30, 2016

This Month in Blastocystis Research (DEC 2016)

I would like to end the year by briefly highlight three of the most important/interesting papers in Blastocystis research published in 2016 (and not co-authored by me).

The first article that comes to my mind is one by Pauline Scanlan and colleagues, who took to investigating the prevalence of Blastocystis in US households (family units). The reason why I'm mentioning this article is not so much due to its approach; it's much more related to the fact that even when molecular methods are used (i.e., highly sensitive methods), the prevalence in this population was only 7%, and the vast majority of Blastocystis carriers were adults. The prevalence is much lower in this population (Colorado) than in a country such as Denmark. I'm interested in knowing the reason for this difference. Are people in Colorado less exposed or are they less susceptible than people in Denmark? I'm also interested in knowing why there was only one child among the carriers... we see similar trends elsewhere: Blastocystis is a parasite that emerges only in adolescence and adulthood. Meanwhile, we see a lot of Dientamoeba in toddlers and smaller children, with more or less all children being infected at some point - at least in Denmark; here, geographical differences may exist as well. Mixed infection with Blastocystis and Dientamoeba in adults is not uncommon, so it's not that they outcompete each other.

Next up, is the article by Audebert and colleagues who published in the Nature-affiliated Scientific Reports on gut microbiota profiling of Blastocystis-positive and -negative individuals. I already made a small summary of the article in this post.

While we gain valuable insight into gut microbiota structure, we also need to know what these microbes are able to do. We need to know about the interaction with the host and how they influence our metabolism. I hope to see more studies emerging on the metabolic repertoire of Blastocystis and how the parasite may be capable of influencing the diversity and abundance of bacterial, fungal and protist species in the gut. What would also be useful is a drug that selectively targets Blastocystis so that we can be able to selectively eradicate the parasite from its niche in order to see what happens to the surrounding microbiota and - if in vivo - to the host.

The last article is authored by my Turkish colleagues Özgür Kurt, Funda Dogruman-Al, and Mehmet Tanyüksel, who pose the rhetorical question: "Blastocystis eradication - really necessary for all?" in the special issue on Blastocystis in Parasitology International. For some time I have been thinking of developing a reply to the authors as a Letter to the Editor with the title "Blastocystis eradication - really necessary at all?" Nevermind, quite similar to what we did back in 2010, the authors review the effect of various drugs that have been used to try eradicate Blastocystis. Moreover, they acknowledge the fact that Blastocystis is often seen in healthy individuals, and that its role in the development of gut microbiota and host immune responses should be subject to further scrutiny. They even suggest that the role of Blastocystis as a probiotic should be investigated. It's great to see clinicians think along these lines, since this is an important step towards expanding the revolution lately seen in Blastocystis research, exemplified by studies such as that by Audebert et al. mentioned above.

So, wishing you all a Happy New Year and a great 2017, I'd like to finish by encouraging you to stay tuned; soon, I will be posting some very... interesting... neeeeeeewwwws...


Audebert C, Even G, Cian A, Blastocystis Investigation Group., Loywick A, Merlin S, Viscogliosi E, & Chabé M (2016). Colonization with the enteric protozoa Blastocystis is associated with increased diversity of human gut bacterial microbiota. Scientific Reports, 6 PMID: 27147260 

Kurt Ö, Doğruman Al F, & Tanyüksel M (2016). Eradication of Blastocystis in humans: Really necessary for all? Parasitology International, 65 (6 Pt B), 797-801 PMID: 26780545

Scanlan PD, Knight R, Song SJ, Ackermann G, & Cotter PD (2016). Prevalence and genetic diversity of Blastocystis in family units living in the United States. Infection, Genetics and Evolution, 45, 95-97 PMID: 27545648

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

This Month in Blastocystis Research (NOV 2015) - Persian Gulf Edition

Today is the first time an Airbus A380 will be landing in Copenhagen Airport, Denmark. Flying in from Dubai, it will mark the inauguration of a runway that was recently refurbished to enable accommodation of a plane of this size.

I therefore thought I'd make a tribute to this particular day by dedicating the "This Month in Blastocystis Research" post to studies on Blastocystis recently published by researchers based along the Persian Gulf. Three surveys on Blastocystis from this region recently made it to parasite/microbiology research journals. The studies are important since they represent examples of studies employing molecular tools for screening and molecular characterisation of parasite isolates identified in regions where such data are extremely scarce. Some of these data will enable us to better understand host specificity, differences in geographic distribution, clinical and public health significance, and transmission patterns.

 The first study was on Blastocystis in Qatar and published in Acta Tropica; it was already mentioned in my September blog entry.

I was lucky to be involved in the second study, which was a study carried out in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, and designed by Ali ElBakri and colleagues. In this study, we screened a total of 133 samples from ex-pats living in Sharjah, subtyping the samples positive for Blastocystis using partial small subunit (SSU) ribosomal RNA gene sequencing. Fifty-nine (44.4%) samples were positive, of which 39 were successfully sequenced and subtyped. The ST distribution was as follows: ST3, 58.9% (23/39); ST1, 28.2% (11/39); and ST2, 7.6% (3/39). This study is the first to provide data on the prevalence of Blastocystis and the distribution of various STs in the UAE. As usual, ST4 was absent, while ST1, ST2, and ST3 were all common in this geographical region; a situation similar to most other regions outside of Europe.

The third study was from the city of Baghmalek in Southwestern Iran, and was published by Khoshnood and colleagues in Jundishapur Journal of Microbiology. This team used microscopy to identify Blastocystis in 1,410 stool samples from patients presumably suffering gastrointestinal symptoms. A very low prevalence was identified, about 3%. This low figure most likely reflects the use of microscopy, which is an extremely insensitive diagnostic method. From Blastocystis-positive samples, DNA was extracted and submitted to PCR and sequencing targeting the (SSU) ribosomal RNA gene. It says in the article that the subtypes identified in the study included "ST3, ST4, ST5, and ST7 with the most prevalent being ST4 (40.9%)", and the main conclusion is that, unlike the situation in other countries in the Middle East, ST4 was identified as the most prevalent subtype.

There are at least two conspicuous situations here: The first one pertains to the rather unusual subtype distribution reported, which appears quite dissimilar to the ones reported from neighbouring countries. The next one is even more odd and pertains to the fact that the sequences (AB915194 - AB915214) generated in the study, and from which the subtype data must have been inferred, do not BLAST to other nuclear ribosomal RNA genes in GenBank, of which there are thousands! In fact, AB915194 represents a protein-coding gene, translating into  

S P Y L L S I S T E E S Y T D S H Y Y G E C T T I A Q S I Y H Q S S K S V E A S I W D C V Y Met T L I Y E G V T D L T Y D E M K A S Y T D P V E T L T V L G K Y P G A D I S G I S L D L V F G Y I G R G I P V I S R I N D G R Y V L I V S Y N S E A V R Y Y D P V L D E Q V R K Q

... which is a Clostridium hypothetical protein with a peptidase domain! This may either reflect an error linked to the accession numbers, or it may reflect a situation where for some reason non-ribosomal DNA sequences were uploaded to GenBank. Given the appearance of the phylogeny included in the article, it could easily be suspected that the sequences produced and used were in fact non-Blastocystis DNA sequences, in which case the paper should be retracted. Before this mystery has been solved, the results of the Iranian study cannot be fully appreciated, and the relevance of citing the study appears very limited for now.

The last study highlights the importance of making sequence data publicly available; if these data had not been available for critical appraisal, the conclusions made in this article could easily have been accepted without any further ado!


Abu-Madi M, Aly M, Behnke JM, Clark CG, & Balkhy H (2015). The distribution of Blastocystis subtypes in isolates from Qatar. Parasites & Vectors, 8 PMID: 26384209

AbuOdeh R, Ezzedine S, Samie A, Stensvold CR, & ElBakri A (2015). Prevalence and subtype distribution of Blastocystis in healthy individuals in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. Infection, Genetics and Evolution: Journal of Molecular Epidemiology and Evolutionary Genetics in Infectious Diseases PMID: 26611823 

Khoshnood S, Rafiei A, Saki J, & Alizadeh K (2015). Prevalence and Genotype Characterization of Blastocystis hominis Among the Baghmalek People in Southwestern Iran in 2013 - 2014. Jundishapur Journal of Microbiology, 8 (10) PMID: 26587213 

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.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

This Month In Blastocystis Research (MAR 2014)

If there's one paper that really made my eye balls pop over the past 30 days, it's the paper appearing a couple of days ago in BMC Infectious Diseases by Safadi et al. on Blastocystis in a cohort of Senegalese children. The paper is open access and can be downloaded here. But I'll be jumping right at it:

A 100% prevalence of Blastocystis in a cohort of 93 Senegalese children! 

The children represented a mixed group of children with and without symptoms. And yes, they were all colonised!

Are Senegalese children obligate carriers of Blastocystis? Image courtesy of
I will not at all try and discuss the potential clinical implications of this. I don't think we currently have the appropriate tools to ascertain to which extent a 100% Blastocystis prevalence is a public health problem. 

However, technically and scientifically, I'm extremely pleased to see a study like this one. My group and some of my colleagues have somewhat similar data in the pipeline, and it's great to see this next generation of survey data emerging from different regions of the world, based on the use of highly sensitive molecular tools to screen for Blastocystis. I cannot emphasise the importance of this too much.

The authors hoovered faecal samples from the children for Blastocystis-specific DNA using both PCR + sequencing (barcode region) and real-time PCR. Importantly, quite a few samples negative by barcoding were positive by real-time PCR, and so if the authors had included only PCR + sequencing, the prevalence would have been only 75% or so. It may be not very surprising that barcoding PCR did not pick up all cases of Blastocystis, but then again, it has always been known that the barcoding PCR is not diagnostic - one of the primers, RD5, is a general eukaryotic primer, while the other one, BhRDr is Blastocystis-specific. Also, the PCR product is about 600 bp; diagnostic PCRs should preferably be designed to produced much smaller amplicons (100 bp or so) for a variety of reasons.

The research team subtyped all samples, and found ST3 to be the most prevalent subtype - colonising about 50% of the children. ST1 and ST2 were also common, while ST4 was found in only 2 children and only in mixed infections. Mixed subtype infections was seen in 8 cases. Note the small fraction of ST4. This subtype is very common in Europe but seems to be rare in most other regions.

There is no doubt that we with molecular tools are now starting to obtain data that represent a more precise snapshot of reality than before when tools of low sensitivity and unable to give strain information were used. And while qPCR can take us a long way in terms of precisely distinguishing positive from negative samples, we still have an amplification step that may interfere with the DNA information that we obtain. The French group involved in this study has over multiple studies done  an admirable job in terms of pursuing the extent of mixed subtype infections. Whether the data are based on sequencing of PCR products amplified by genus-specific primers, or whether real-time PCR  using genus-specific primers is used, it can still be argued that these methods have limitations due to application of genus-specific primers in both cases. It is going to be interesting to compare the evidence that we have collected from subtyping over the past few years with analysis of metagenomics data, which are independent of PCR amplification, and thus not subject to potential bias. 

A 100% prevalence means that transmission pressure is massive. Three subtypes are common. Still, mixed infections are present in less than 10%. If this is indeed a realistic picture, this may imply that once established, a Blastocystis strain is capable of keeping other strains at bay? In keeping with waht I said above, it is also possible that the extent of mixed infections is higher, and that the PCR methods only detect the more predominant strain, making the prevalence of mixed ST infection seem low.

It's tempting to believe that such a high prevalence of Blastocystis compared to Europe is due to exposure to contaminated water, but how does this explain a whopping 30% Blastocystis prevalence in the background population in Denmark, a country characterised by supreme hygienic standards and 'perfect plumbing' with all potable water being pumped up from the ground (ie. hardly no surface water)? Have all individuals positive for Blastocystis in Denmark been out traveling to more exotic countries with less well controlled water infrastructures? Or is Blastocystis just highly transmissible through e.g. direct contact? And will all who are exposed develop colonisation? What are the determinants? It's probably not fair to dismiss the idea of Blastocystis being waterborne (as one of the modes of transmission) due to the fact that Blastocystis has not been cause of waterborne outbreaks. If Blastocystis is non-pathogenic, it can easily be transmitted by water. In fact, if Blastocystis is waterborne and never gives rise to outbreaks, what does this tell us about it's pathogenic potential? Well, acute disease such as that seen for some bacteria, viruses, and Cryptosporidium, Giardia and microsporidia is probably not something that is associated with the organism.

I could have wished for allele analysis of the subtypes detected. It should be possible in all cases where barcode sequences were available, - simply and easy using this online tool. But the data is available in GenBank so everyone interested can have a look. 

There is plenty of interesting things to address, but for now I'll leave it here, and on behalf of all of us interested in Blastocystis research just thank the people behind the paper for publishing this important study!

And nope, this is no April Fool!


El Safadi D, Gaayeb L, Meloni D, Cian A, Poirier P, Wawrzyniak I, Delbac F, Dabboussi F, Delhaes L, Seck M, Hamze M, Riveau G, & Viscogliosi E (2014). Children of Senegal River Basin show the highest prevalence of Blastocystis sp. ever observed worldwide. BMC Infectious Diseases, 14 (1) PMID: 24666632

Stensvold CR (2013). Comparison of sequencing (barcode region) and sequence-tagged-site PCR for Blastocystis subtyping. Journal of Clinical Microbiology, 51 (1), 190-4 PMID: 23115257

Stensvold CR (2013). Blastocystis: Genetic diversity and molecular methods for diagnosis and epidemiology. Tropical Parasitology, 3 (1), 26-34 PMID: 23961438

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Some updates on Blastocystis

Blastocystis is a micro-eukaryote, a so-called protist, parasitising the intestine of humans and a variety of animals.

We estimate that at least 1 billion people worldwide are colonised by this parasite, and we believe that the majority experience no more episodes of intestinal upset, e.g. diarrhoea, than the average individual.

Blastocystis colonises the intestine for a long time (probably months or years).

Many species of Blastocystis are known, of which at least 9 have been found in humans. Such species are currently termed "subtypes" (STs). ST1, ST2, ST3 and ST4 are common in Europe. While ST1, ST2, and ST3 appear to have equal prevalences in patients with diarrhoea and healthy individuals, ST4 appears to be linked to diarrhoea and/or chronic conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

There is no known efficient treatment of Blastocystis. Although metronidazole is often prescribed for Blastocystis infections, there is conflicting reports on its efficacy. Even in combination with a luminal agent, such as paromomycin, Blastocystis eradication cannot be guaranteed.

Whether Blastocystis causes symptoms in humans may depend on factors such as co-evolution. ST3 is the most common subtype in humans and ST3 may account for 30-50% of Blastocystis in humans. ST3 shows substantial intra-subtype genetic variation, and we believe that Blastocystis ST3 has co-evolved with humans, and therefore we may have adapted to ST3 colonisation. ST4 on the other hand is almost clonal and may have entered the human population relatively recently. This could partly explain why ST4 colonisation has been linked to intestinal symptoms.

Further reading:
1. Stensvold CR, Alfellani M, Clark CG. Levels of genetic diversity vary dramatically between Blastocystis subtypes.
2. Stensvold CR, Christiansen DB, Olsen KE, Nielsen HV. Blastocystis sp. ST4 is common in Danish Blastocystis-positive patients presenting with acute diarrhea.