Ever since its first description in 1918, Dientamoeba fragilis has struggled to gain recognition as a significant pathogen. There is little justification for this neglect, however, since there exists a growing body of case reports from numerous countries around the world that have linked this protozoal parasite to clinical manifestations such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, flatulence, and anorexia. A number of studies have even incriminated D. fragilis as a cause of irritable bowel syndrome, allergic colitis, and diarrhea in human immunodeficiency virus patients. Although D. fragilis is most commonly identified using permanently stained fecal smears, recent advances in culturing techniques are simplifying as well as improving the ability of investigators to detect this organism. However, there are limitations in the use of cultures since they cannot be performed on fecal samples that have been fixed. Significant progress has been made in the biological classification of this organism, which originally was described as an ameba. Analyses of small-subunit rRNA gene sequences have clearly demonstrated its close relationship to Histomonas, and it is now known to be a trichomonad. How the organism is transmitted remains a mystery, although there is some evidence that D. fragilis might be transmitted via the ova of the pinworm, Enterobius vermicularis. Also, it remains to be answered whether the two distinct genotypes of D. fragilis recently identified represent organisms with differing virulence.
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