Leading medical charity Action Research has confirmed a highly significant association between Crohn’s disease and a type of bacteria known as Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP). Over 90% of Crohn’s disease sufferers who took part in the study were found to be infected with the MAP bug. The results of this study are reported in the latest issue of the Journal of Clinical Microbiology.
Crohn’s disease causes inflammation of the intestine and symptoms include chronic diarrhoea, abdominal pain, weight loss and extreme tiredness. Crohn’s affects about 100,000 people in Britain, with about 5,000 new cases reported every year. The MAP bug specifically causes chronic inflammation of the intestine in many animals including primates.
The discovery that the MAP bug is present in the vast majority of Crohn’s sufferers means it is almost certainly causing the intestinal inflammation. MAP infection is widespread in animals, including domestic livestock, and is passed to humans in cow’s milk.
Funded by Action Research, the groundbreaking study was carried out by Professor John Hermon-Taylor and his research team at St George’s Hospital Medical School in London. They used a state-of-the-art DNA test as well as advanced cultures to detect the MAP bug. “The association between the MAP bug and Crohn’s is highly significant,” said the Professor.
“An unexpected finding of the research showed that patients suffering with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) were also infected with the MAP bug. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a common condition affecting one person in ten, and is estimated to cost the NHS over £700 million a year.”
“In animals, MAP inflames the nerves of the gut,” said the professor. “Recent work from Sweden shows that people with IBS also have inflamed gut nerves. There is a real chance that the MAP bug may be inflaming people’s gut nerves and causing Irritable Bowel Syndrome.”
Simon Moore, Chief Executive of Action Research said: “We believe this is tremendously important research, which is why the Charity has funded work in this area for almost twenty years. Action Research is supporting Professor Herman Taylor’s efforts to develop a modern anti-MAP vaccine to treat Crohn’s disease sufferers. This vaccine stimulates the immune system, so that-MAP infected Crohn’s sufferers can fight the MAP bugs themselves.”
Professor John Hermon-Taylor has been supported by Action Research for almost 17 years, with funding of more than £940,000. The trial results of his new vaccine for Crohn’s sufferers should be available later this year.
“The problems caused by the MAP bug are a public health tragedy”, believes Professor Hermon-Taylor. He has sent a copy of the paper to Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health. The Food Standards Agency has already confirmed Professor Hermon-Taylor’s original findings, and showed live MAP bacteria in two per cent of retail pasteurised milk cartons.
Action Research is calling for Crohn’s to be made reportable disease by the Department of Health. The medical charity also wants to see an increase in the stringency of milk pasteurisation, tests for MAP in dairy herds, and the staged introduction of improved on-farm procedures for reducing MAP infection. Professor Hermon-Taylor believes these will reduce the problem but not eliminate it, and is pressing for effective MAP vaccines for both animals and humans.
Action Research does not recommend that anyone stops drinking milk. However for those individuals with Crohn's disease or their close relatives, who may feel particularly at risk, it may be sensible to start drinking UHT milk. As UHT involves higher pasteurisation temperatures, it is probable that MAP is destroyed.
MAP has a low level of infectivity and is tolerated by the vast majority of people with no ill effects. Factors involved in contracting Crohn's could be an inherited susceptibility, co-incidental infection (gastro-enteritis or multi-viral infections in childhood) and also psychological conditions and stress, both of which make people (and animals) vulnerable to disease.
For more information or to interview Simon Moore or Professor Hermon Taylor please telephone Louise Brown, Press Officer, 01403 327403 (direct line), Vincent House, North Parade, Horsham, West Sussex RH12 2DP or email firstname.lastname@example.org Rob Orme, Public Relations Officer 01403 327404 (direct line) or email email@example.com
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