Helicobacter pylori infection most common in early childhood

March 14, 2002

HOUSTON--(March 14, 2002)--A bacteria that causes stomach ulcers infects most people before they reach age 10, according to a Baylor College of Medicine study published in the March 16 issue of the Lancet.

Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection is one of the most common bacterial infections worldwide and is a major cause of chronic gastritis, peptic ulcer, and stomach cancer.

"The period in life that someone acquires the infection may influence the risk of developing digestive disorders," said Dr. Hoda Malaty, an associate professor of medicine at Baylor.

Baylor, in collaboration with the Tulane School of Public Health, monitored 224 children from infancy (1975-76) to young adulthood (1995-96). An estimated 24.5 percent of study participants were infected by age 18 to 23. Three times as many black children were infected.

The average age they first became infected with H. pylori was 7.5 years. More than 84 percent of the infected children stayed infected with H. pylori during adolescence and young adulthood. "Our study demonstrates how important it is to target H. pylori treatment and prevention strategies to young children," Malaty said.

While researchers are not certain how people become infected with H. pylori, they think it may be spread through food, water or by direct or indirect contact. Researchers around the world are trying to develop a vaccine to protect children from H. pylori infection.

Until a vaccine is developed, frequent handwashing, especially before eating, is currently the best way method of preventing infection. Physicians can detect the infection through a urea breath test or by blood test.
Other contributors to the study included Dr. David Graham, professor of medicine, and molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor, chief of gastroenterology at Baylor and chief of the digestive diseases section at the Houston VAMC; Sidd G. Reddy and Dr. Yoshio Yamaoka of the department of medicine at Baylor; Dr. Abdalla El-Kasabany, Dr. Sathanur R. Srinivasan, and Dr. Gerald S. Berenson of the Tulane Center for Cardiovascular Health, Tulane School of Public Health, and Dr. Charles C. Miller with the department of surgery, University of Texas Medical School.

Baylor College of Medicine

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