As a physician with a degree in public health, I am deeply concerned about a largely overlooked epidemic that has engulfed the entire world. I am referring to a pathogen existing in water supplies.

As a physician with a degree in public health, I am deeply concerned about a largely overlooked epidemic that has engulfed the entire world. I am referring to a pathogen existing in water supplies.

The cause of this pandemic is a bacterium living in water reservoirs, derived from migratory bird droppings found in the water supplies. Migratory waterfowl are known to carry the Helicobacter pylori endemically in their intestines. The infection has been documented in many research studies.  

The Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to two doctors from Australia in 1985 for being the first to demonstrate how to culture HP and relate the bacteria to disease that resulted from ingestion of water containing HP.

The diseases caused by HP are gastritis, peptic ulcers and cancer of the stomach in two forms. Since then, tests for HP have been developed in the form of a blood test, a breathing test and, in some cases, biopsy by gastroscopy when indicated.

However, very little progress has been made in prevention of HP infection and investigation of other disease states that may arise from HP. Many clinicians and some investigators feel that other conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer of the pancreas and even cancer of the bile ducts, may result from HP infection.

These possibilities have not gained much traction with the majority of investigators that have been working to find genes that could be the basis of these diseases. So far, after billions spent in research, nothing of value has emerged from those studies. Many editorialists in respected, peer-reviewed medical journals are calling for new avenues of investigation and openly seek the advice of seasoned clinicians.

HP infects 50 percent of the population of the entire world. In the U.S., the infection rate is about 20 percent because of public health measures started by the government in 1920. However, we still have 25,000 patients with stomach cancer, of which 12,000 die yearly. About 150,000 patients suffer peptic ulcers yearly, along with thousands of emergency room visits for bleeding from the ulcers or perforations or obstructions.

In addition, we have 5.4 million patients largely confined to nursing homes, plus “memory clinics” and numerous other facilities treating some aspect of the dementia accompanying Alzheimer’s, supported by Medicare and Medicaid. We are not dealing with any failure of local water supply facilities.

They are doing as dictated by regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The problem resides with the EPA, which regulates what local water boards must do to protect our drinking water. At present, the EPA states that there is no testing method for HP and that they are unable to direct local boards until such ability to test becomes available in two to three years.

It is a fact that the two doctors from Australia were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine precisely because they were the first to discover the method of culturing and staining HP bacteria.

I believe that congressmen and senators need to bring this problem to the attention of the EPA and urge prompt resolution.

This epidemic also has much to do with the rising costs of medical care. At the present pace, we will have 10 million patients with Alzheimer’s in a few years, largely on Medicaid, which will overwhelm all budgetary planning.
Add the cost of care expended for cancer of the stomach, ulcers and the other cancers I have mentioned. We can no longer wait to solve this preventable problem.

I hope our public officials will use their positions to expedite action by the EPA to initiate prevention measures against H. pylori and the epidemic affecting the lives of so many.

This guest column is written by Dr. Sidney W. Rosen, a retired gastroenterologist from Fall River, Mass.