Medicine has recognised the Helicobacter pylori bug as the cause of peptic ulcers - but is becoming increasingly powerless to treat it as its resistance to antibiotics rises. Antibiotics are ineffective in up to 70 per cent of cases because of their massive overuse.
Antibiotic therapy is useless in 'a significant proportion' of patients, says Peter Jenks, a microbiologist at University Hospital in Nottingham, for other reasons as well, such as age, smoking and the type of bacteria in the gut.
But, by far, the biggest concern is antibiotic resistance. Up to 70 per cent of H. pylori strains in the West are resistant to the antibiotic metronidazole, and up to 15 per cent are resistant to clarithromycin, another antibiotic. Resistance to amoxycillin is vastly underreported, which leaves just tetracycline among the antibiotics as an effective antidote to the bug (BMJ, 2002; 325: 3).