(This is my fourth blog on links between potentially fatal Crohn’s Disease and Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis infection – see my May blogs for more information on the latest research)
In the case of Crohn’s Disease, the human consequences of allowing corporate lobbies to suppress medical information aren’t limited to living in a country with the highest incidence in the world of a potentially fatal – but totally preventable – illness. (see my May blogs about the latest research on Crohn’s Disease and Mycobacteria avium paratuberculosis infection). It also means that Americans with Crohn’s miss out on important new treatments available to Europeans. With new evidence suggesting irritable bowel syndrome and microscopic colitis (afflicting 15-25% of Americans) may actually be mild, early forms of Crohn’s, we are talking about a public health issue affecting more than a quarter of the American population.
At present most North American doctors treat Crohn’s with steroids and immunosuppressant drugs, which only offer temporary relief and do nothing to halt the progression of the illness. In some patients this approach may delay the need for surgery (when intestinal blockage or leakage becomes life threatening). However doctors in the forefront of Crohn’s research feel continuing use of immunosuppressants may actually do more harm than good. If Crohn’s is indeed a defective immune response to a Mycobacteria avium paratuberculosis (MAP) infection, it makes no sense to administer drugs likely to compromise a patient’s immunity even further.
The Crohns/MAP Link: Implications for Treatment
The first antibiotic trials for Crohn’s Disease took place in 1997, when Professor Hermon-Taylor at the University of St George in London treated 46 patients with a combination of antituberculosis drugs (the mycobacteria that cause tuberculosis happen to be closely related to Mycobacteria avium paratuberculosis). After six months 94% of his patients went into remission despite discontinuing all the prior immunosuppressant medication. Moreover many showed evidence of intestinal healing. Unfortunately many were unable to tolerate the medications long term and approximately half relapsed before the MAP could be totally eradicated. Historically mycobacterial infections (such as tuberculosis and leprosy) are like HIV, in that treatment involves taking multiple medications over a period of at least one to two years (in the case of AIDS the treatment is lifelong and the virus is never totally eradicated).
A Promising New Vaccine
Professor Hermon-Taylor has now shifted his focus to a vaccine against MAP. What makes this research particularly exciting is that the vaccine seems to be effective in treating existing Crohn’s Disease, as well as having a potential of preventing Crohn’s in children with a family history of Crohn’s (or irritable bowel syndrome).
What Every Parent Needs to Know
At present the vaccine, as well as antibiotic treatment, are still in the research phase. This means the primary emphasis, at present, must be on prevention. And until government regulatory agencies, such as the FDA and USDA, are willing to acknowledge the serious threat MAP poses to public health, it falls on parents and parent advocates and support groups to get the word out about the best way to protect their children against MAP infection.
Obviously the safest approach is to avoid dairy products altogether. Where children are unable or unwilling to drink alternatives (soy or rice milk – goats and sheep can also carry MAP so these may not be a safe alternatives), cow’s milk must be boiled. New mothers with Crohn’s need to be warned they can transmit MAP to their infants through their breast milk.
Parents need to be cautioned that beef can also carry MAP and must reach an internal temperature of 167 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 10 minutes for the organism to be destroyed. And people living in urban areas where the source of drinking water passes through intensively farmed dairy land (Spokane, Christchurch, Winnipeg and the Red River Valley in Minnesota are known hot spots) must boil their drinking water. Unfortunately MAP is not destroyed by chlorination or other conventional water treatments.