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Med J Malaysia. 2009 Sep;64(3):187-92.

Epidemiology of Helicobacter pylori infection in Malaysia--observations in a multiracial Asian population.

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Head of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Department of Medicine, University of Malaya, 50603 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.


Observations of racial differences in the prevalence of Helicobacter pylori in Malaysia have been intriguing. The Indians and Chinese consistently have a higher prevalence compared to the Malays. The racial cohort theory has been proposed to explain these differences where transmission and perpetuation of infection takes place within a racial group rather than between races, races being separate owing to the low rate of interracial marriages. Studies have demonstrated distinctive bacterial strains between races. Phylogenetic studies have shown that H. pylori isolates amongst Chinese and Indians are distinctive while Malays have Indian and other strains suggesting a more recent acquisition of the bacterium from Indians. H. pylori is recognized as the major causative factor in peptic ulcer disease and gastric cancer. Despite the high prevalence of H. pylori, Indians have a relatively low prevalence of peptic ulcer disease and a low incidence of gastric cancer. This paradox with regards to gastric cancer has been termed the "Indian enigma". Bacterial strain differences between races may be putative but this observation may also indicate gastroprotective environmental factors or a lower genetic susceptibility to develop cancer in the Indians.

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