Human intestinal spirochetosis: analysis of the symptoms of 209 patients

Scand J Gastroenterol. 2007 Dec;42(12):1422-7. doi: 10.1080/00365520701245629.


Objective: Colonization of the colorectal mucosa with spirochetes is very rare. Owing to the small number of cases, it is not clear from the currently available publications whether spirochetes colonizing the colorectal mucosa are harmless commensals or pathogenic organisms. Furthermore, the reported complaints of these patients cannot be pooled to identify a characteristic complex of symptoms. The aim of the present work was to describe the symptoms associated with intestinal spirochetosis in a population of 209 patients, and to elucidate the effect of antibiotic treatment on these symptoms.

Material and methods: A total of 209 carefully processed questionnaires providing information on the symptoms, treatment and post-treatment symptoms of patients with spirochetosis were evaluated statistically and descriptively with the aid of the SPSS program, and the results were compared with those reported in the currently available literature.

Results: Of the 209 patients 168 (80.4%) were males, and the average age of the entire population at establishment of the diagnosis was 50.75 years. The most common symptoms reported were abdominal pain (46%), diarrhoea (51%) and alternating diarrhoea and constipation (13%). In this population, homosexuality and HIV infection played only a small role (6.5% homosexual patients, 3.8% HIV infected). In 72 of the 84 patients who received treatment (86%), the antibiotic employed was metronidazole, and the symptoms improved in 44 of the 84 patients (5%). Twenty-six of the 84 patients (30.9%) were investigated by colonoscopy/biopsy after receiving medical treatment. Biopsies in 20 of these patients no longer revealed infection with spirochetes, and symptoms were found to have improved in 11 of the 20 patients (55%).

Conclusions: If intestinal spirochetosis is diagnosed to be the sole intestinal pathology in symptomatic patients, the bacteria should be eradicated with metronidazole and a colonoscopy/biopsy follow-up performed, where indicated, in patients with persisting symptoms. Significant results regarding symptoms and treatment of intestinal spirochetosis can be achieved only in a prospective, placebo-controlled, randomized, crossover study. In view of the low prevalence of this condition, such a study is difficult to implement.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Diseases / diagnosis
  • Intestinal Diseases / epidemiology
  • Intestinal Diseases / microbiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Registries
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spirochaetales Infections / diagnosis*
  • Spirochaetales Infections / epidemiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires