We studied 388 homosexual or bisexual men from the Baltimore-Washington area to define the spectrum of enteric pathogen carriage in a population at high risk for "gay bowel syndrome" in association with human immunodeficiency virus infection. Seventy-seven patients with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, 68 gay men with symptoms of acute diarrhea or proctitis, and 243 gay men without gastrointestinal symptoms and participating in a natural history study of human immunodeficiency virus infection were selected for study. Approximately 12% of the asymptomatic men harbored at least one enteric pathogen; the most frequently recovered were Chlamydia trachomatis, herpes simplex virus, and Giardia lamblia. Men carrying a pathogen were more likely to be human immunodeficiency virus seropositive (48%) than men without a pathogen (25%) (p = 0.018), more likely to have fewer T helper cells (p = 0.015), and more likely to have a mucopurulent exudate (p = 0.014). We recovered an agent of enteric disease from 68% of gay men presenting with diarrhea or proctitis. Campylobacter species, herpes simplex virus, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, C. trachomatis, G. Iamblia, and Shigella species were identified most frequently. The most common pathogen associated with diarrhea in acquired immunodeficiency syndrome was Cryptosporidium (16% of 49 cases). Other agents identified were Clostridium difficile, Vibrio parahemolyticus, Campylobacter species, G. lamblia, Isospora, and cytomegalovirus. Approximately half of the identifiable etiologic agents of diarrhea in acquired immunodeficiency syndrome patients were treatable With antibiotics, but these agents required special culture procedures for detection.
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