Chlamydia in your gut could protect you
Exposing the gut to chlamydia protects against subsequent infection in the genital tract and other tissues, researchers have discovered.
Chlamydia is the nation’s most common sexually transmitted disease and causes infertility, ectopic pregnancy and pelvic inflammatory disease if untreated.
The protection from exposing the gut to the disease is very robust and is across tissues, which is called transmucosal immunity. Protected sites include the genital tract and the lungs, said Guangming Zhong, M.D., Ph.D., professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics.
Human exposure to chlamydia is unpredictable, and can come through genital or non-genital sexual contact with an infected partner and perhaps through contact with contaminated materials. The researchers used a mouse model to study the bacteria’s transmission.
They found if the gut was the first site to be colonized by chlamydia bacteria, the mice were immunized against further disease. The gut infection was benign. But if the genital tract was the first to be infected, the resulting disease was harmful, causing a worse disease prognosis, including the possibility of infertility because the disease is advanced before symptoms are present.
The bacterium that causes the disease could be used as an oral vaccine in the future, the researchers believe.
“We take probiotics for our GI health,” Dr. Zhong said. “In the future, we may add chlamydia as a probiotic for the gut. Once the bacteria are established in the GI tract, they don’t spread.”