I woke up this morning, grabbed my smartphone and went on to check my Blastocystis Google Alert. There was one entry, and this was the one:
Now, I could probably do a post with hundreds of examples showing how the internet abounds with material that may misguide/misinform people on Blastocystis pathogenicity. As such, this video is a nice example of how you can diligently manipulate people into thinking that severe, debilitating disease can be caused by Blastocystis.
Now, before I move on, I have to say that if this is a documentary, I'm very sorry for the couple in this video who have suffered the pain and consequences of sudden debilitating illness. Precautions have to be taken when you are exposed to sewage to avoid contracting infections.
The symptoms that are described in the video - including the weight loss - could be attributable to many different bacterial and viral pathogens, even parasites such as Cryptosporidium and maybe also Giardia; to this end, the video provides us with no information on other pathogens found in the patient's stool. Even in the event that Blastocystis was the only potential pathogen found, other pathogens may have been overlooked if sensitive diagnostics were not taken into use.
It is possible that Bill Wilson contracted Blastocystis only after signing on to his plumbing contract, but it is also possible that he had it a long time before. Many of us (up to 30% of the healthy Danish population) are colonised, and colonisation is often chronic.
We are informed that the patient receives a course of metronidazole, a drug that is often used to treat Blastocystis, but which in fact has a limited efficacy in vivo when used alone. Bill apparently clears his symptoms after metronidazole treatment, but we do not know whether in fact Bill also clears his Blastocystis infection, which could be determined by post-treatment stool tests. Metronidazole is capable of clearing a large number of anaerobic bacterial and protozoan species, and it is not unlikely that the drug has eradicated one or more pathogens that Bill could have contracted during his work (or elsewhere), and so symptom relief may be due to clearance of a non-Blastocystis pathogen instead.
Finally, it may be so that symptom disappearance coincides with spontaneous pathogen resolution. Cryptosporidiosis, for instance, can cause quite debilitating disease even in immunocompetent individuals, causing the infected individuals to lose a lot of water due to diarrhoea lasting for days or even weeks, but the disease is usually self-limiting.
So, this video tells a story that makes the audience automatically think that Bill Wilson's disease is due to Blastocystis. Apart from the statement 'Complications from a Blastocystis hominis infection can be fatal' and the explanation of how metronidazole works on Blastocystis, there is not really any statements or information in the video that do not make sense; the video is just put together in a way so that the viewer automatically deduces that Blastocystis is the culprit. A diligent act of manipulation!
Please note that this post is about how information on Blastocystis can be conveyed to an audience and not about the particular case as such.
Stensvold CR, Smith HV, Nagel R, Olsen KE, & Traub RJ (2010). Eradication of Blastocystis carriage with antimicrobials: reality or delusion? Journal of clinical gastroenterology, 44 (2), 85-90 PMID: 19834337