When Christopher Columbus colonised the Americas in the 15th century the consequences for the native people already living there were profound. Some of the harmful things the early colonists brought to the New World were their own strains of pathogens, including these stomach-dwelling Helicobacter pylori bacteria. The bugs are usually transmitted from parent to child but it can also be picked up from close contact. By studying the genetic makeup of Helicobacter pylori in the Americas and comparing them with bacteria in Europe and Africa, researchers have been able to map their origins. They found that strains brought by European colonists and their African slaves spread rapidly across Latin America in the past 500 years. Helicobacter pylori infection is a major issue in South America, contributing to high rates of stomach ulcers and cancers, and could be due to genetic mismatch between Old World bacteria and their new native hosts.
Today is WHO World Health Day
Written by Kat Arney
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