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Background:

Economic models have suggested that population Helicobacter pylori screening and treatment may be a cost-effective method of reducing mortality from gastric cancer. These models are conservative as they do not consider that the programme may reduce health service peptic ulcer and other dyspepsia costs. We have evaluated the economic impact of population H. pylori screening and treatment over 2 years in a randomized controlled trial and have incorporated the results into an economic model exploring the impact of H. pylori eradication on peptic ulcer disease and gastric cancer.

Methods:

Subjects between the ages of 40 and 49 years were randomly invited to attend their local primary care centre. H. pylori status was evaluated by 13C-urea breath test and infected individuals were randomized to receive omeprazole, 20 mg b.d., clarithromycin, 250 mg b.d., and tinidazole, 500 mg b.d., for 7 days or identical placebos. Economic data on health service costs for dyspepsia were obtained from a primary care note review for the 2 years following randomization. These data were incorporated into a Markov model comparing population H. pylori screening and treatment with no intervention.

Results:

A total of 2329 of 8407 subjects were H. pylori positive: 1161 were randomized to receive eradication therapy and 1163 to receive placebo. The cost difference favoured the intervention group 2 years after randomization, but this did not reach statistical significance (£11.42 per subject cost saving; 95% confidence interval, £30.04 to – £7.19; P=0.23). Analysis by gender suggested a statistically significant dyspepsia cost saving in men (£27.17 per subject; 95% confidence interval, £50.01 to £4.32; P=0.02), with no benefit in women (– £4.46 per subject; 95% confidence interval, – £33.85 to £24.93). Modelling of these data suggested that population H. pylori screening and treatment for 1 000 000 45-year-olds would save over £6 000 000 and 1300 years of life. The programme would cost £14 200 per life year saved if the health service dyspepsia cost savings were the lower limit of the 95% confidence intervals and H. pylori eradication had only a 10% efficacy in reducing mortality from distal gastric cancer and peptic ulcer disease.

Conclusions:

Modelling suggests that population H. pylori screening and treatment are likely to be cost-effective and could be the first cost-neutral screening programme. This provides a further mandate for clinical trials to evaluate the efficacy of population H. pylori screening and treatment in preventing mortality from gastric cancer and peptic ulcer disease.