Abu Dhabi/Dubai: One out of five UAE residents is likely to have a stomach bug that causes ulcers, which can lead to stomach cancer, the figures reflect the global standard, says the physician who discovered the bacterium.

Dr Barry Marshall, who won the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 2005 along with his partner Dr Robin Warren for the discovery of Helicobacter Pylori (H. pylori), said the bug was prevalent in the region.

"It has been detected that Helicobacter Pylori (HP) is one of the most widespread diseases affecting 20 per cent of the UAE community, of which one per cent may be likely to be carrying cancer already and another 70 per cent are infected by the disease throughout the Middle East region," he said, quoting a 2003 UAE study.

He spoke to the press at a conference to announce the establishment of an H. pylori group in the Gulf Diagnostic Centre Hospital.

The findings of the study, conducted at Shaikh Zayed Hospital in Abu Dhabi on more than 200 patients, found the trend in the UAE closely matched World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates, which put the bug as affecting 70 per cent of the population in developing countries and 20 to 30 per cent in developed countries.

Dr Saeed Salim Al Shaikh, who led the study and is now the head of the gastroenterology department at Welcare Hospital, told Gulf News the findings were divided along generational lines.

"The younger generation follow the industrialised nation statistic of (20 to 30 per cent) but it is more common among the older generation - about 70 per cent," he said.

Dr Emad Fayyad, head of gastroenterology at Dubai Department of Health and Medical Services (Dohms) agreed, saying the infection was very common among his patients.

"Around 60 to 70 per cent of people who come in have the infection," he said.

Because of the prevalence of the bacterial inefcetions, Dr Marshall said health authorities should consider making the H. pylori test routine.

"I suspect the UAE Ministry of Health in the near future will enforce a law that tests people for Helicobacter Pylori just like they do now for HIV. It's a serious disease that can lead to cancer and we must worry about long-term effects connected to it," he said.

However, Dr Al Shaikh disagreed, saying the prevalence did not justify the cost of the test.

"It can be serious and cause serious problems. [But] dangerous is a matter of opinion. There are a lot of people walking around with the H. pylori bug and it is not that dangerous if not discovered," he said.

What is H. pylori?

Transmitted from person to person

Helicobacter Pylori, which Dr Barry Marshall proved caused stomach ulcers that can lead to stomach cancer by swallowing a H. pylori culture in 1984, is transmitted from person to person. The discovery changed the face of treatment for gastritis and other illnesses, by curing it with antibiotics instead of just treating the symptoms.

According to the WHO, the bacterial infection occurs more commonly before the age of 10 among people in the tropics. The UAE has a sub-tropical climate.