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Original research
Assessment of rectal Chlamydia trachomatis viable load in women by viability-PCR


Objectives In recent years, studies have demonstrated frequent rectal Chlamydia trachomatis (CT) detection in women, irrespective of reported anal sex or rectal symptoms. However, the clinical relevance and public health implication of rectal CT detection in women remain under debate. Therefore, evaluating CT viability may provide more insight into the relevance of standard routine nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT)–positive results.

Methods In this cross-sectional explorative study, a convenience sample of female patients at our STI clinic aged 18 years or older, diagnosed with vaginal and/or rectal CT, were invited to participate. On return for treatment, rectal CT-diagnosed women were instructed to self-collect rectal swab samples before being treated. Standard COBAS 4800 CT/NG routine NAAT testing was applied for CT diagnosis. Rectal viable CT load was evaluated by using viability-PCR (V-PCR).

Results 53 women with rectal CT were included in this study; 86.8% (46/53) had a quantifiable rectal total CT load. Of women with quantifiable samples, 52.2% (24/46) had viable CT detected from rectal swabs by V-PCR, with a mean rectal viable CT load of 3.31 log10 CT/mL (range 1.16–6.22). No statistically significant difference (p=0.73) was observed in the mean rectal viable CT load of women with an indication for rectal testing (n=9) and without (n=15), 3.20 log10 CT/mL (range 2.06–4.36) and 3.38 log10 CT/mL (range 1.16–6.22), respectively. CT culture yielded positive test results from rectal swabs in 22.6% (12/53) of rectal CT NAAT-diagnosed women. Of women with viable rectal CT by V-PCR (n=24), 50% (12/24) were positive by CT culture.

Conclusions Overall, the detection of high rectal viable CT loads in this study indicates that rectal CT in some women might represent a currently ongoing infection rather than just the presence of remnant DNA from dead bacteria or only contamination from an active vaginal CT infection.

  • chlamydia trachomatis
  • chlamydia infection
  • diagnosis
  • public health
  • women

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