Efficacy of immunotherapy using antigens of Pythium insidiosum in the treatment of vascular pythiosis in humans

Vaccine. 2004 Sep 9;22(27-28):3613-21. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2004.03.031.


Human pythiosis is an emerging disease in the tropical, subtropical and temperate regions of the world. It is caused by the straminipilan, fungus-like, aquatic organism Pythium insidiosum. Pythiosis occurs in localized as well as systemic or vascular forms. Most patients with arterial pythiosis usually have underlying hematologic disorders such as thalassemia and aplastic anemia/paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH) syndrome. Vascular pythiosis is characterized by ascending blood vessel infections and thrombosis of the major arteries especially those of the lower extremities. When the infection reaches a main artery, the patient usually dies within weeks. Since this pathogen is resistant to most antifungal drugs, immunotherapy was recently used to cure humans and animals with the disease. A modified P. insidiosum-antigen (PIA) formulation had already saved a young boy with life-threatening arterial pythiosis. Here, we report the therapeutic benefits of the PIA in eight patients with vascular pythiosis. Six of them had thalassemia and the other two had PNH. All of the patients had arterial occlusion of the lower limbs. P. insidiosum was isolated and identified by culture and by histopathology. All patients had evidence of active infection when immunotherapy began. After two injections of 100-200 microl of PIA (2.0mg/ml), at a 14-day interval, four patients (50%) had dramatic and complete remission. Two patients showed partial responses to PIA while the other two did not. Clinical responses correlated with the immunological reactions at the site of injection, clearance of the arteries and cytokine production. The latter included the shifting in serum levels of IL4 and IL5 to IL2 suggesting a switching from a T helper 2 (Th2) to a T helper 1 (Th1) subset. Our findings provide further evidence that immunotherapy using PIA is a safe and effective method to treat pythiosis in humans.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anemia, Aplastic / complications
  • Angiography
  • Arteries / pathology
  • Chemistry, Pharmaceutical
  • Cytokines / blood
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy*
  • Pythium / immunology*
  • Vaccines / therapeutic use
  • Vascular Diseases / microbiology
  • Vascular Diseases / pathology
  • Vascular Diseases / therapy*
  • alpha-Thalassemia / complications
  • beta-Thalassemia / complications


  • Cytokines
  • Vaccines