Showing posts with label parasite load. Show all posts
Showing posts with label parasite load. Show all posts

Monday, May 7, 2012

Blastocystis: To Treat or Not to Treat...

This year, Coyle et al. published a Clinical Practice paper in Clinical Infectious Diseases, a journal with a 5-year impact factor of almost 8. It is still difficult to get papers on Blastocystis published in clinical, peer-reviewed journals of major impact, probably due to the fact that evidence of Blastocystis' pathogenicity is so far only indicative, so it is great to see that the authors have managed to get their manuscript past those iron doors!

A few issues have come to my attention. When reading the abstract the reader will get the impression that subtypes are synonymous with genotypes, which is not the case. In the case of Blastocystis, a subtype is equivalent to a species; one of the reasons why we haven't allocated species names to Blastocystis from humans, other mammals and birds yet, is that we do not have sufficient data on genetic diversity and host specificity to come up with relevant names.

It says in the first page (pdf) that Blastocystis subtype (ST) 3 is found only in humans, which is not true. This subtype is common in non-human primates and can be seen in other, larger animals, including dogs, and also birds, if I remember correctly. However, so far, we only have multilocus sequence typing data from human and non-human primates, and these data indicate that ST3 found in non-human primates is often different from ST3 found in humans.

The authors recommend that asymptomatic individuals with few cysts should not be treated. Then what about asymptomatic individuals with many cysts? Also, with the diagnostic short-comings of microscopy of faecal concentrates, the suggested cut-off at 5 organisms per visual field appears arbitrary and, in best case, fortuitous.

In the abstract, the authors state that metronidazole is the drug of choice, although they appear to be quite aware that this drug has limited effect in terms of eradicating Blastocystis. So, why is metronidazole the drug of choice? Blastocystis is a parasite lodged primarily in the large intestine, and therefore we must anticipate that metronidazole often fails to reach the the parasite in sufficient concentrations due to absorption proximally in the gut. Luminal agents, such as paromomycin, are probably more likely to work, maybe in combination with metronidazole, although we have had a case, where even this combination was not effective.

When reviewing studies of treatment, it is important to acknowledge that insensitive methods have been used to evaluate drug efficacy. Culture combined with PCR is in my opinion the best method available in this respect. I prefer adding culture to the test, since culture detects viable Blastocystis (as opposed to PCR which will detect both viable and non-viable cells). Future randomised controlled treatment studies should therefore use culture and PCR to identify carriers both pre- and post-treatment. Whether Blastocystis-positive stool post-treatment is due to recrudescence, resistance or reinfection is not easily evaluated, but some useful information can be achieved by multi-locus sequence typing of isolates pre- and post-treatment.

Literature cited:

Coyle CM, Varughese J, Weiss LM, & Tanowitz HB (2012). Blastocystis: to treat or not to treat... Clinical infectious diseases : an official publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, 54 (1), 105-10 PMID: 22075794  

Stensvold CR, Alfellani M, & Clark CG (2012). Levels of genetic diversity vary dramatically between Blastocystis subtypes. Infection, genetics and evolution : journal of molecular epidemiology and evolutionary genetics in infectious diseases, 12 (2), 263-73 PMID: 22116021  

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