OBJECTIVE: Reactive arthritis (ReA) triggered by Chlamydia trachomatis or enteric bacteria such as yersinia, salmonella, Campylobacter jejuni, or shigella is an important differential diagnosis in patients presenting with the clinical picture of an undifferentiated oligoarthritis (UOA). This study was undertaken to evaluate the best diagnostic approach.
PATIENTS AND METHODS: 52 patients with ReA, defined by arthritis and a symptomatic preceding infection of the gut or the urogenital tract, and 74 patients with possible ReA, defined by oligoarthritis without a preceding symptomatic infection and after exclusion of other diagnoses (UOA), were studied. The following diagnostic tests were applied for the identification of the triggering bacterium: for yersinia induced ReA-stool culture, enzyme immunoassay (EIA), and Widal's agglutination test for detection of antibodies to yersinia; for salmonella or campylobacter induced ReA-stool culture, EIA for the detection of antibodies to salmonella and Campylobacter jejuni; for infections with shigella-stool culture; for infections with Chlamydia trachomatis-culture of the urogenital tract, microimmunofluorescence and immunoperoxidase assay for the detection of antibodies to Chlamydia trachomatis.
RESULTS: A causative pathogen was identified in 29/52 (56%) of all patients with ReA. In 17 (52%) of the patients with enteric ReA one of the enteric bacteria was identified: salmonella in 11/33 (33%) and yersinia in 6/33 (18%). Chlamydia trachomatis was the causative pathogen in 12/19 (63%) of the patients with urogenic ReA. In patients with the clinical picture of UOA a specific triggering bacterium was also identified in 35/74 (47%) patients: yersinia in 14/74 (19%), salmonella in 9/74 (12%), and Chlamydia trachomatis in 12/74 (16%).
CONCLUSIONS: Chlamydia trachomatis, yersinia, and salmonella can be identified as the causative pathogen in about 50% of patients with probable or possible ReA if the appropriate tests are used.
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