Review article: should we kill or should we save Helicobacter pylori?
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Results from epidemiological studies and therapeutic clinical trials have shown that Helicobacter pylori infection causes acute and chronic active gastritis and is the initiating factor for the majority of peptic ulcer disease. Eradication of the infection with antibiotics resolves gastritis and restores normal gastric physiology, accelerates healing of peptic ulcer disease, and virtually eliminates recurrence of duodenal ulcer disease. The infection also plays an important role in the initiation and/or progression of gastric atrophy and intestinal metaplasia, which may eventually lead to the development of distal gastric cancer. Furthermore, almost all patients with gastric MALT lymphoma are infected with H. pylori and cure of the infection leads to histological regression of the tumor and maintains the regression in over 80% of patients during long-term follow-up. Preliminary uncontrolled data from Japan show that eradication of the infection significantly reduced metachronous intestinal-type gastric cancer following initial endoscopic resection of early gastric cancer and might also prevent the progression of gastric adenoma to gastric dysplasia or gastric cancer. Although this overwhelming evidence has demonstrated that H. pylori infection is bad for humans, some have questioned the wisdom of eradicating the infection in all those infected. Their arguments are largely based on hypothesis and circumstantial evidence: 1) Less than 20% of all H. pylori infected persons will develop significant clinical consequences in their lifetime. 2) H. pylori strains are highly diverse at a genetic level and are of different virulence. 3) The antiquity of H. pylori infection in humans and their co-evolution suggests that H. pylori may be a commensal to humans. Eradication of H. pylori may remove some beneficial bacterial strains and may provoke esophageal disease or gastric cancer at the cardia. However, careful review of the literature confirms that H. pylori infection is a serious pathogen albeit in a minority of those infected. It remains for carefully designed prospective studies, rather than hypothesis to make changes in the current consensus position.
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