LONDON (Reuters) – Western Europe’s caseload of chronic Lyme disease patients infected with the bacterium Clostridium difficile increased again in August, a health agency said on Sunday, raising concerns about the chronic, often fatal condition being promoted in particular by cosmetic disease drugs.

For the first time, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that Europe’s caseload of Clostridium difficile patients with detectable levels of the bacterium was reaching a peak.

Earlier this year, the WHO also said it had found a possible link between severe chronic Lyme disease and a drug marketed by Alliance Pharma, which has been involved in recent fights over the promotion of the drug ViroPharma and the possible new marketing guidelines for antibiotics.

The new study said 718 patients from 18 European countries infected with the bacterium were seen by hospitals in August, including 404 new patients between July and August.

Clostridium difficile infections have been linked to hospitalizations and the need for antibiotics. According to the WHO, around 85 percent of cases are very rare, and more than 80 percent die.

Doctors in Europe hope by 2020 they could cut the number of patients treated for Clostridium difficile by up to half through the use of antibiotics.

‘Therapeutic immunity’ mechanisms – which prevent potentially deadly antibiotic resistance – are known to play a role in patients with Clostridium difficile infections.

But the WHO report found that a third of those with the disease were already resistant to antibiotics used for those patients’ treatment.

The antibiotic, sold generically as earfloxacin and known generically as triclocarban, is cheaper than them and immune-boosting. Patients now often pay around 30 percent of their costs for ViroPharma’s combination drugs.

Last week, Britain’s Department of Health published new guidelines for antibiotics to combat chronic and multi-drug resistant infections such as Clostridium difficile, saying doctors should focus their prescribing on patients with fewer than 100 related cases per year.

The guidelines are to be tested before being published in the official journal BMJ in October.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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