Abolishing a common stomach-dwelling bacterium makes the long-term use of anti-inflammatory drugs safer. Many people would benefit from chronic usage of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin and diclofenac. Not only do these drugs relieve the symptoms of arthritis, they also protect against heart attack, stroke and maybe even Alzheimer's disease.
But the NSAIDs have a major drawback. They may lead to stomach bleeding and ulceration. Researchers in Hong Kong have tested the effect on patients needing long-time NSAIDs of eliminating the bacterium Helicobacter pylori - which is a major risk factor for ulcers when it colonises the stomach. One group of patients received antibiotics to eradicate the infection, while a second group received placebo.
H. pylori was eliminated in 80 per cent of the antibiotic group, compared to six per cent of the placebo group. After six months, the probability of ulcers in the antibiotic group was just 15 per cent, compared to 30 per cent in those on placebo. The study strongly suggests that clearing up H.pylori infection will make NSAID use a safer option for those who can benefit from these drugs.