Is H. pylori Contagious?

  • 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: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

woman with abdominal pain

What is H. pylori?

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.

Is H. pylori contagious?

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.

Most investigators think that individuals become infected as children because the parents and the person's siblings are likely to transmit the organisms to them while they are young. The organisms are considered to be a major cause of both stomach and small intestine (duodenal) ulcers.

How long before I know I am infected with H. pylori?

About two thirds of the world's population is infected with H. pylori. A significant percentage of this population likely became infected as children and most show no signs of infection for many years. Consequently, individuals may realize that they are infected with H. pylori when they develop symptoms of stomach inflammation (gastritis) and/or ulcers, usually in their adult years.

Quick GuideDigestive Disorders: Common Misconceptions

Digestive Disorders: Common Misconceptions

H. pylori Symptoms

Most people who are infected with H. pylori bacteria have few or no symptoms. However, some people may experience episodes of gastritis with symptoms such as:

  • abdominal discomfort.
  • bloating,
  • minor belching,
  • nausea, and
  • vomiting

What are the symptoms of H. pylori?

The most common symptoms of H. pylori are:

  • A discomfort in the area of the stomach described as burning or gnawing or aches and pains
  • This pain typically occurs when the stomach is empty and/or during the early morning hours.
  • The pain may be reduced by antacids or food in the stomach.
  • Burping
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • More severe symptoms can include:

About 30% to 35% of infected people do not have symptoms.

How are H. pylori bacteria spread?

The H. pylori bacteria are likely spread from one individual to another by:

  • saliva,
  • contaminated foods or fluids, and
  • poor hygiene, for example, the lack of hand washing.

Researchers speculate that the majority of individuals that are colonized and/or infected with H. pylori are likely infected through the mouth (fecal – oral route) during their childhood.

When should I seek medical care for an H. pylori infection?

People that develop any symptoms or signs of recurrent gastritis and/or ulcer disease should contact their doctor to determine if they are infected with H. pylori or have other medical problems. Those with known duodenal or stomach ulcers can be tested for an H. pylori infection. H. pylori infections can be detected by several methods including:

  • a blood test,
  • a breath test,
  • a biopsy urease test,
  • stomach biopsy, and
  • culture of biopsy specimens for H. pylori.

Individuals that have blood in either their stools or vomit should be seen by a doctor right away (emergently).

Are there home remedies or cures for H. pylori infection?

There is a wide range of "home remedies" available that claim to treat this problem, for example:

  • beer,
  • garlic,
  • wine,
  • mastic tree sap or gum, and
  • many others.

The effectiveness of these home remedies is questionable at best. Patients are advised to discuss these treatments with their doctors before they begin them.

How will I know if or others or I are no longer contagious for H. pylori?

H. pylori can be treated with antibiotic therapy (a triple therapy regimen) that, for best results, lasts 14 days. However, to be sure the infection is gone, the person needs to have the diagnostic test(s) repeated show that H. pylori is no longer present in the individuals gastrointestinal tract. Unfortunately, at least one study has shown that even after eradication of H. pylori, individuals are re-infected at a rate of about 20% after three years.

Medically reviewed by Robert Cox, MD; American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Infectious Disease

REFERENCES:

CDC.Infectious Diseases Related To Travel.
<http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2014/chapter-3-infectious-diseases-related-to-travel/helicobacter-pylori>

Monthly Prescribing Reference. Helicobacter pylori Infection Patient Fact Sheets.

The University of Arizona. H. PYLORI TRANSMISSION AND SPREAD OF INFECTION.
<https://publichealth.arizona.edu/outreach/health-literacy-awareness/hpylori/transmission>

UpToDate. Helicobacter Pylori Infection Clinical Presentation.

Quick GuideDigestive Disorders: Common Misconceptions

Digestive Disorders: Common Misconceptions

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Reviewed on 8/23/2016
References
Medically reviewed by Robert Cox, MD; American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Infectious Disease

REFERENCES:

CDC.Infectious Diseases Related To Travel.
<http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2014/chapter-3-infectious-diseases-related-to-travel/helicobacter-pylori>

Monthly Prescribing Reference. Helicobacter pylori Infection Patient Fact Sheets.

The University of Arizona. H. PYLORI TRANSMISSION AND SPREAD OF INFECTION.
<https://publichealth.arizona.edu/outreach/health-literacy-awareness/hpylori/transmission>

UpToDate. Helicobacter Pylori Infection Clinical Presentation.

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