Helicobacter pylori inhabits half of the world population
Word has got around that Helicobacter pylori is one of the main causes of gastric and intestinal ulcers. Ulm researchers have investigated how the bacterium gets into the digestive tract. According to their findings, most children are infected by their own mother. Since Australian researchers discovered it in the human stomach in 1983, Helicobacter pylori has "virtually revolutionized large areas of medicine," says Prof. Dr. Hermann Brenner, Head of the Epidemiology Department at the University of Ulm. He was made together with Dr. Dietrich Rothenbacher (Department of Epidemiology), PD Dr. Günter Bode (Department of Internal Medicine I) and Prof. Dr. Guido Adler (medical director of the Department of Internal Medicine I) on 13. November 1997 awarded by the German Society for Pediatric Infectious Diseases with their Research Prize 1997. The prize was awarded to a study that contributed important and sometimes surprising findings to the epidemiology of this bacterium.
H. pylori resides in the stomach, which was considered sterile until this bacterium was discovered. It has emerged as the most important cause of gastric and duodenal ulcers and is believed to be involved in the formation of gastric cancer. In the meantime, its influence on other chronic diseases, including those of the cardiovascular system, has been proven.
Acquired in childhood
Epidemiologists estimate that more than half of the world's population is infected with H. pylori, although the rates of infection differ greatly in international comparisons. There is much to suggest that the infection is predominantly acquired in childhood. As far as the spread of the stomach germ in Germany is concerned, there was hardly any reliable data until 1996, in cooperation with the Ulm He alth Department, Brenner and colleagues launched the world's largest study to date on the spread, risk factors, transmission paths and clinical consequences of Helicobacter pylori infection in childhood - as part of a comprehensive investigation program into the spread of the infection in various population groups.
Around 80 percent of all first-graders in Ulm (945 out of 1201) were tested for H. pylori by breath sample as part of the school enrollment examinations. In addition, the parents answered a standardized questionnaire on possible risk factors and sources of infection. The – completely anonymous – evaluation of the data was carried out at the University of Ulm. According to the Ulm study, almost one in seven preschool children (13.4%) is a germ carrier. There were considerable differences depending on the country of birth and nationality. Children who had already had antibiotic treatment (e.g. due to otitis media or other bacterial infections) were found to be significantly less likely to be Heliobacter pylori positive. Apparently, the bacterium does not cause any symptoms in childhood, on the contrary: Children infected with Helicobacter complained less often of abdominal pain, diarrhea or vomiting than those who were not infected.
Especially the mother
The best way to spread Helicobacter seems to be transmission within the family, especially from mother to child - a result that has now been impressively confirmed in a follow-up study. For example, children of mothers who suffered from a stomach or duodenal ulcer (and who, according to current knowledge, almost always have an H. pylori infection) were infected almost twelve times more often than others. Contrary to popular belief, pets, on the other hand, apparently do not contribute to the spread of the germ, at least in this country. There were also no indications of an increased risk of infection in the daycare center or kindergarten.
The award-winning researchers emphasize that the success of their informative study is largely due to the excellent cooperation of the Ulm He alth Department and the active willingness to participate of the Ulm preschool children and their parents.