Research shows ulcer-causing bug immune to drugs
By Atiba Nelson, Staff Reporter
With the end of the semester near, there’s no doubt that student stress levels are rising. Now, there is another thing for students to stress about: A new superbug.
Prior to ground-breaking research, physicians and scientists would anticipate an increase in gastric ulcers among students, as these ulcers were previously linked to stress and the spicy foods that students would sometimes consume while studying.
Thirty-seven years ago, two Western Australian doctors—Barry Marshall and Robin Warren—challenged the notion that stress caused stomach ulcers and showed that Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a helix-shaped gram-negative bacterium, was to blame for the sores in stomach lining.
Initially the medical community scoffed, but soon their discovery became commonplace, and in 2005 Drs. Marshall and Warren were awarded The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of the “ bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis [inflammation of the stomach] and peptic ulcer disease.”
The discovery that bacteria caused stomach ulcers was Nobel-worthy because medicine had the tools to combat bacteria: Antibiotics.
When a patient’s symptoms and investigations revealed an infection with H. pylori, a physician would prescribe a regiment of two antibiotics (amoxicillin and clarithromycin) and a medication that inhibits the stomach from generating stomach acid (pantoprazole) and the bacteria would be eliminated.
That is, until now.
A new study in Gut—a journal under the British Medical Journal umbrella—has shown that H. pylori is no longer responding to one first-line antibiotic, and that in Europe the “High rate of clarithromycin resistance no longer allows [for] empirical use in standard anti-H. pylori regimens,” as stated in the study’s abstract.
The authors titled the article “Helicobacter pylori resistance to antibiotics in Europe and its relationship to antibiotic consumption.” However, now that the alarm is sounded that H. pylori has mutated and is resistant to a common antibiotic, the bacteria has reached “superbug” status.
“The findings of this study are certainly concerning, as H. pylori is the main cause of peptic disease and gastric cancer [and] the increasing resistance of H. pylori to a number of commonly-used antibiotics may jeopardize prevention strategies,” observed Mário Dinis-Ribeiro, President of the European Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, in a press release related to the article.
Though the article documented H. pylori’s rise to antibiotic resistance, scientists have estimated that the bacteria had been becoming resistant to conventional antibiotics for years.
In 2017, Helicobacter pylori joined a list of 12 antibiotic-resistant “priority pathogens” that the World Health Organization claimed needed research and development to generate new antibiotic treatments to avoid a public health crisis.
The list included common bacteria such as Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacteria that causes gonorrhea.