H. pylori (Helicobacter Pylori ) Infection

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

What Is H. pylori, and Is It Contagious?

H. pylori (Helicobacter pylori) are spiral shaped bacteria. H. pylori bacteria are unique because they produce the enzyme urease that allows the bacteria to live in the harsh environment of the stomach. The urease enzyme it produces reacts with urea to form ammonia that neutralizes enough of the stomach's acid to allow the organisms to survive in the tissues.

H. pylori is considered to be contagious and passed from person to person by:

  • saliva,
  • fecal contamination (in food or water), and
  • poor hygiene practices.

Quick GuideDigestive Disorders: Common Misconceptions

Digestive Disorders: Common Misconceptions

Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection facts

  • Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a bacterium that causes chronic inflammation (infection) in the stomach and duodenum, and is a common contagious cause of ulcers worldwide. These bacteria are sometimes termed "ulcer bacteria."
  • H. pylori causes chronic inflammation (gastritis) by invading the lining of the stomach and producing a cytotoxin termed vacuolating cytotoxin A (Vac-A), and thus can lead to ulcer formation.
  • Although many infected individuals have no symptoms, other infected individuals may have occasional episodes of
  • More serious infections cause symptoms of
  • H. pylori is contagious; however, some individuals may be simply have the bacteria in their gut, and the bacteria causes no symptoms of disease.
  • The diagnosis of H. pylori infection includes tests for antibodies in blood, a urea breath test, tests for antigens in stool, and endoscopic biopsies.
  • Chronic infections with H. pylori weakens the natural defenses of the stomach so most individuals with symptoms need to be treated to prevent ulceration formation.
  • H. pylori can be difficult to eradicate from the stomach with antibiotics because of antibiotic resistance; consequently, two or more antibiotics are usually given together (treatment regimen) with a protein pump inhibitor (PPI) medication (for example, omeprazole [Prilosec, Zegerid] or esomeprazole [Nexium]) termed H. pylori treatment and/or triple therapy.
  • In general, patients should be treated if they are infected with H. pylori and have ulcers. Moreover, patients who develop MALT lymphoma (a type of cancer) of the stomach have the lymphoma progress if H. pylori is not treated and eradicated.
  • Because about 50% of the world's population is infected with H. pylori, treatment and prevention of side effects and complications is difficult; however, recommendations to help prevent ulcers include:
  • Good hand washing techniques with uncontaminated water will reduce the chances of infection.
  • Currently, no vaccine is available against H. pylori to prevent either colonization or infection.
  • The prognosis for H. pylori infections is usually good to excellent, but up to 20% of affected individuals may have reoccurring infection. Untreated and more severe infections have a worse prognosis because of the potential for bleeding, anemia, and low blood pressure (hypotension). Continue Reading
Reviewed on 6/28/2016
References
REFERENCES:

Cancer.gov. Helicobacter pylori and Cancer. Reviewed Sep 5, 2013
<http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/infectious-agents/h-pylori-fact-sheet>

Chey, W. et al. "American College Gastroenterology Guideline on the management of Helicobacter pylori Infection." Amer. J. Gastro, 102:1808-1825, 2007.
<http://s3.gi.org/physicians/guidelines/ManagementofHpylori.pdf>

FDA. FDA approves first Helicobacter pylori breath test for children. Feb 24, 2014
<http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm293278.htm>

Santacroce, L. "Helicobacter Pylori Infection." Medscape. Sep 11, 2014.
<http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/176938-overview>

Crowe, S. MD., et al. "Patient information: Helicobacter pylori infection and treatment (Beyond the Basics)." UpToDate. Oct 08, 2015.
<http://www.uptodate.com/contents/helicobacter-pylori-infection-and-treatment-beyond-the-basics>

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