Daily Bulletin


The Conversation

  • Written by Phil Sutton, Group Leader/Snr Princ Research Fellow, Mucosal Immunology, Murdoch Children's Research Institute
Explainer: what is Helicobacter pylori?

In 1982, two Australians – Robin Warren and Barry Marshall – presented their first observations of strange bacteria living in the human stomach. They went on to propose that these bacteria caused a common condition called gastritis, which is essentially inflammation of the stomach.

This radical suggestion was not well received by doctors at the time. To convince sceptics, Marshall famously infected himself with a culture of these bacteria, causing him to develop gastritis.

Read more: In Conversation with Barry Marshall: using pathogens to help humans

These bacteria, which became known as Helicobacter pylori, look like curved rods with a bank of structures called flagella at one end. These flagella beat like arms to propel the bacteria around the stomach.

Around half the world’s population is infected with Helicobacter pylori, although this varies between countries and age groups, with the highest rate among the elderly. Around 15% of Australians are infected.

Helicobacter pylori normally infect the stomachs of children where, in most cases, they stay for ever.

In developed countries such as Australia, it appears likely to be spread from mouth to mouth and mother to child. In developing countries, it might also be spread in contaminated water, though this is not proven.

Complications

Most infected people are blissfully unaware of their little passengers. But in around one in five infected people, the resulting gastritis can, many years later, lead to one of several diseases including peptic ulcers – open sores in the lining of the stomach.

It was for discovering the link between Helicobacter pylori, gastritis and peptic ulcers that Marshall and Warren received the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 2005.

Helicobacter pylori infection can also cause two types of cancer: the rare MALT lymphoma and a stomach cancer called gastric adenocarcinoma.

Read more: A new blood test can detect eight different cancers in their early stages

Gastric adenocarcinoma is the fifth most common cause of death due to cancer in the world and claims around 1,200 Australian lives each year. At least 90% of these cancers are thought to be caused by Helicobacter pylori, with this disease occuring due to genetic abnormalities that develop in stomach cells as a result of constant and severe gastritis.

Diagnosis

People with ulcers or other gastric problems can be tested for Helicobacter pylori infection in a number of ways, including the following three tests:

  • a blood test that looks for antibodies
  • a stool test that detects bits of the bacteria in the faeces
  • a breath test that detects an enzyme produced by Helicobacter pylori in the stomach. This involves drinking a special solution that is broken down by the enzyme, producing a compound that is breathed out and measured.

Treatment

A single antibiotic would be prescribed to treat most bacterial infections. But treating a Helicobacter pylori infection is far more complex. It commonly involves two or three antibiotics, delivered with a drug called a proton pump inhibitor, which temporarily reduces acid secretion in the stomach.

The development of resistance to antibiotic treatments is becoming a major concern for many disease-causing bacteria and Helicobacter pylori are no exception. This means front-line treatments aren’t always able to immediately eradicate Helicobacter pylori infection.

Some people who undergo treatment don’t actually clear the infection in the first go, although they do normally do so with subsequent alternative drug combinations.

Progress

Many things have changed over the past 36 years. Prior to 1982, ulcers were believed to be caused by stress and/or the overproduction of stomach acid. People with these common conditions often suffered for years. Also the cause of gastric adenocarcinoma was unknown.

Marshall and Warrens’ discovery that Helicobacter pylori cause gastritis means peptic ulcers can now be cured; in many countries including Australia, these have now become relatively rare conditions.

And their discovery that most stomach cancers are caused by Helicobacter pylori has revealed a way of preventing this terrible disease. These days, people diagnosed with Helicobacter pylori have the infection treated which greatly reduces their chance of getting this cancer.

Read more: Is it OK for medical students to practise on themselves?

Authors: Phil Sutton, Group Leader/Snr Princ Research Fellow, Mucosal Immunology, Murdoch Children's Research Institute

Read more http://theconversation.com/explainer-what-is-helicobacter-pylori-103833

Writers Wanted

Australia's states have been forced to go it alone on renewable energy, but it's a risky strategy

arrow_forward

The missing middle: puberty is a critical time at school, so why aren’t we investing in it more?

arrow_forward

A Beginner’s Guide To Caring For Your Lawn

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

BEN FORDHAM: Scott Morrison, good morning to you.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Ben. How are you?    FORDHAM: Good. How many days have you got to go?   PRIME MINISTER: I've got another we...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Business News

Nisbets’ Collab with The Lobby is Showing the Sexy Side of Hospitality Supply

Hospitality supply services might not immediately make you think ‘sexy’. But when a barkeep in a moodily lit bar holds up the perfectly formed juniper gin balloon or catches the light in the edg...

The Atticism - avatar The Atticism

Buy Instagram Followers And Likes Now

Do you like to buy followers on Instagram? Just give a simple Google search on the internet, and there will be an abounding of seeking outcomes full of businesses offering such services. But, th...

News Co - avatar News Co

Cybersecurity data means nothing to business leaders without context

Top business leaders are starting to realise the widespread impact a cyberattack can have on a business. Unfortunately, according to a study by Forrester Consulting commissioned by Tenable, some...

Scott McKinnel, ANZ Country Manager, Tenable - avatar Scott McKinnel, ANZ Country Manager, Tenable



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion