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Chlamydia pneumoniae Infections in Asthma

Clinical Implications


Chlamydia pneumoniae is an intracellular pathogen that has been suggested to play a role in the pathology of asthma. However, so far none of the studies have provided clear evidence for a causative role of C. pneumoniae infections in asthma, although there is little doubt that chronic C. pneumoniae infection does aggravate asthma and should be treated.

The diagnosis of C. pneumoniae infection is still a matter of concern for it is dependent on trained skilled personnel and can vary significantly between different diagnostic laboratories. This fact is also one of the major problems encountered when comparing epidemiological studies investigating the possible role of C. pneumoniae infections and their impact on the pathogenesis of other diseases.

With regard to therapy, long-term treatment with macrolides is the best available method to eradicate C. pneumoniae. Successful therapy for C. pneumoniae, however, can also be complicated by the high possibility of de novo infection as epidemiological studies have shown that the prevalence of antibodies to C. pneumoniae increases with age in all populations studied. In the northern hemisphere the prevalence of C. pneumoniae is also affected by seasonal conditions. It is too early to draw any conclusions from the equatorial belt countries. The available data on C. pneumoniae in tropical countries indicate a much faster infection rate during early adulthood with 100% serological prevalence at an age greater than 25 years. This data, if confirmed, would argue against C. pneumoniae causing asthma since the asthma prevalence in those countries does not increase in a parallel pattern.

An alternative interpretation of most studies could be that the increased rate of C. pneumoniae infections in patients with asthma results from a modified susceptibility towards the microorganism, due to yet unknown changes of the host cell’s physiology. It should be kept in mind that increased prevalence of C. pneumoniae infection is not restricted to asthma.

Further studies are needed to understand the role of C. pneumoniae, especially of chronic infection, in the pathogenesis of inflammatory diseases with a specific focus on the effect that the microorganism triggers in the infected host cell. Only when we understand what C. pneumoniae does to its host cell will we be able to judge its impact on the overall status of an affected patient, and this knowledge will help us to develop a successful therapy.

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This study was supported by a donation from Mr C. Jacquet, Basel, Switzerland. The authors have no conflicts of interest directly relevant to the content of this review.

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Correspondence to Dr Mesut Gencay.

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Gencay, M., Roth, M. Chlamydia pneumoniae Infections in Asthma. Am J Respir Med 2, 31–38 (2003).

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  • Asthma
  • Childhood Asthma
  • Bronchial Hyperresponsiveness
  • Positive Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Reactive Airway Disease