OBJECTIVE: To determine the prevalence of Staphylococcus aureus nasal carriage and to compare antibody responses to two superantigens, staphylococcal toxic shock syndrome toxin-1 (TSST-1) and staphylococcal enterotoxin A (SEA), in rheumatoid arthritis patients and normal subjects. METHODS: 88 rheumatoid arthritis patients and 110 control subjects were cultured for nasal carriage of S aureus; 62 isolates were bacteriophage typed. Twenty five patients and 11 spouses were tested for antibodies to TSST-1, SEA, and sonicate extracts of Bacteroides fragilis and Escherichia coli; 19 patients were HLA-DR typed. RESULTS: 50% of patients and 33% of normal subjects were S aureus carriers. Bacteriophage typing of isolates suggested significant differences between strains isolated from the two groups. Patients showed higher IgG (P = 0.0025) and IgA (P = 0.0372) antibody levels to TSST-1 than normal spouses and these responses were not related to rheumatoid factor titres or HLA-DR type. CONCLUSION: When compared to normals, rheumatoid arthritis patients more often carry S aureus in their nasal vestibule, carry a distinct subpopulation of S aureus strains, and have higher average antibody levels to TSST-1.
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