Blastocystis hominis: Pathogen or Fellow Traveler?

Edward K. MarkellDepartment of Medicine, Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, Oakland, California

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Michael P. UdkowDepartment of Medicine, Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, Oakland, California

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Blastocystis hominis, an intestinal organism of uncertain taxonomic position, has long been considered nonpathogenic. Some recent studies suggest, however, that it may be associated with diarrhea and may respond to treatment with iodoquinol or metronidazole. To investigate this possibility, we identified 148 persons whose stools contained this organism. Of this number, 32 had at least 6 stool examinations performed. Twenty-seven of the 32 persons were later found to have ≥1 recognized pathogens—Entamoeba histolytica, Giardia lamblia or Dientamoeba fragilis—and, after receiving appropriate therapy, became asymptomatic. The B. hominis infection, however, was unaffected by therapy. Five persons with only B. hominis infection were treated with iodoquinol without effect; these persons fulfilled the medical criteria for irritable bowel syndrome. We believe that when an apparently symptomatic B. hominis infection responds to therapy, the improvement probably represents elimination of some other undetected organism causing the infection.

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