Screening for H. pylori Reduces Ulcer Disease in Workers

Newswise -- A workplace program to detect and treat workers infected with Helicobacter pylori, the bacterium that can cause stomach ulcers and lead to stomach cancer, reduces the rates and associated costs of ulcers and related diseases, suggests a study in the March 2004 Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

M. Gerald Ott, PhD, and colleagues in the BASF Occupational Medical Department and the Gastroenterology Department of the Municipal Clinic of Ludwigshafen/Rhein (an academic teaching hospital) analyzed the benefits of a program to identify, treat, and prevent H. pylori-related illness among BASF employees based in Ludwigshafen, Germany. Of more than 6,000 employees screened, further evaluation and treatment was recommended in about 13 percent, who had antibodies to H. pylori in their blood and findings of ulcer, dyspepsia or a family history of stomach cancer.

Based on insurance data from two years before and after screening, the rate of ulcer-related illnesses decreased by more than half after the program was introduced. Most of the reduction was achieved in workers who tested positive for H. pylori and were then treated to eliminate the infection.

Ulcer disease also decreased somewhat among workers who had previous stomach symptoms but not ulcers. In this group, screening and treatment to eliminate H. pylori may have helped to prevent ulcers from developing.

Rates of other gastric disorders decreased slightly, especially among workers with ulcers. For workers who tested positive for H. pylori but were not treated, the total number of sick days increased. For one worker, screening led to early detection and successful treatment of stomach cancer.

For the company, costs were estimated to be reduced by about $123,000 per year for work days lost due to ulcer and by $86,000 for work days lost to other gastric diseases. Rough calculations suggested that the screening program would pay for itself in a year or two, not even counting reductions in the costs of treating these diseases.

Helicobacter pylori is an important cause of gastritis and ulcers, and leads to an increased risk of stomach cancer. The new results suggest that screening and treatment for H. pylori infection in an industrial population can reduce the rate of ulcer-related illnesses, and possibly of other stomach diseases as well. Over time, H. pylori screening may yield greater reductions in ulcers, and perhaps even prevent cases of stomach cancer. The program appears to save money by reducing missed work days and may help to lower medical costs as well.

ACOEM, an international society of 6,000 occupational physicians and other healthcare professionals, provides leadership to promote optimal health and safety of workers, workplaces, and environments.

Source: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

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