AIMS--To determine whether oro-pharyngeal colonisation by Chlamydia trachomatis occurs in patients at risk of genital chlamydia infection; to determine whether screening pharyngeal specimens by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) increases detection of C trachomatis compared with isolation and the immune dot blot test; and to correlate the detection of C trachomatis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae in the pharynx with a history of oro-genital contact. METHODS--Thirteen homosexuals and 11 heterosexuals were included in the study. Urogenital and pharyngeal specimens were tested for C trachomatis and N gonorrhoeae using standard clinical diagnostic procedures. Two different PCR methodologies were also used to detect C trachomatis in the pharyngeal specimens. Results were correlated with the mode of sexual practice. RESULTS--Oro-genital sexual contact was practised by 64.9% (72/111) of heterosexuals in addition to penetrative penovaginal intercourse. Additionally, 62.1% (77/124) of all patients did not use any form of barrier protection. Of those who admitted to oro-genital sexual contact, 17.6% of patients with a genital chlamydial infection and 36.4% of those with genital gonorrhoea also had asymptomatic pharyngeal colonisation. C trachomatis was detected in three of 124 (2.4%) pharyngeal specimens by PCR which were reported as negative by chlamydial culture; one was positive by the immune dot blot test. CONCLUSION--The majority of patients practised unprotected oro-genital contact and significant pharyngeal colonisation by C trachomatis and N gonorrhoeae occurred if genital infection was present. Despite the use of PCR in a population at high risk of sexually transmitted disease, the prevalence of chlamydia in the pharynx was very low. This indicates that transmission of C trachomatis to the oro-pharynx does not pose a serious health risk and that screening of patients for oro-pharyngeal C trachomatis is not worthwhile.
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