Helicobacter Pylori


Adoptive Families Association of BC
AFABC Special Needs Database

Helicobacter Pylori (HP) is a bacteria that lives in the stomach of a patient. It can survive the harsh acid climate of the stomach by hiding in the mucous lining, which protects the stomach from its own gastric juices. White blood cells arrive to defeat the invading infection but they are unable to do so. They die trying, and their death releases toxins, which were supposed to be used against intruders. Instead their deaths damage the stomach causing pain and often ulcers.

Young children are the most susceptible to this infection, and transmission increases in crowded areas such as orphanages, group homes, hospitals, jails and submarine crews. Infection usually occurs between ages 1 and 2. It is not known how this infection is transferred from one to another, but it is possible that it is related to oral/fecal contact and/or oral/oral contact.

This is one of the most common infections in the world, and it has varying degrees of seriousness, from minor stomach pain to stomach cancer. While some patients may be asymptomatic, characteristics can include:

  • Chronic gastritis
  • Abdominal pain throughout the night
  • Hematemesis (vomiting blood)
  • Recurrent vomiting
  • Duodenal or gastric ulcers
  • Disruption of digestion
  • Malnutrition
  • Anemia (iron deficiency)

There is also a low possibility of developing stomach cancer in patients who do not receive treatment.

In some, international adoptees especially, HP can be a cause of poor growth and/or a failure to thrive despite the change to a healthier environment. The infection inhibits digestion, and causes abdominal pain, which diminishes nutrient intake as well as the subject’s appetite. In addition to the problems associated with HP, the bacteria embeds itself in the stomach’s mucous lining, and acts as a doorway for other infections. Intestinal parasites are commonly associated with HP and contribute to the poor growth and malnutrition of the patient.  

Diagnosis without an endoscopy is difficult, especially in young children. A blood test, which would normally show antibodies in an adult fighting the infection, does not work on an infant who will not develop the antibodies until about 9 months after infection. Also, it is difficult to get small children to participate in the breathing tests (C-urea), which involve fasting, specific timed eating, and breathing into an apparatus at timed intervals.

After diagnosis, most infections can be resolved through antibacterial medication. However, drug resistant HP is becoming more and more common.  Because of this, different approaches must be considered including higher doses of different medication. This may result in various side effects depending on the drug in question. Specialists in gastroenterology should be consulted in the case of drug resistant HP, in order to determine the proper course of treatment.

Because Helicobacter Pylori acts as a sort of door for additional infections, it can become difficult to diagnose. Symptoms may be due to multiple infections including intestinal parasites. In addition, ulcers can be the result of various effects, in some cases more serious than HP. Repeated testing with either the breath tests or endoscopy is necessary to determine if the infection has been cured, in order to proceed with diagnosis of other issues.

This resource is by no means intended as a substitute for a doctor's advice or diagnosis. Any concerns you may have with regard to your child's health and development should be discussed with a professional in an appropriate field.