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The stomach ulcer bacterium Helicobacter pylori is not transmitted through drinking water as previously thought, but rather through vomit and possibly feces, according to new research from the Sahlgrenska Academy. The researchers say that it is therefore possible to prevent the spread of the bacterium in developing countries through some fairly simple measures.
“Taking some cheap but powerful measures may prevent the spread of the bacterium. It could be enough to isolate vomiting patients especially from small children for a short period of time, since Helicobacter pylori is not able to survive for long outside the stomach. If isolation is not possible, it may suffice to pay extra attention to good hygiene,” says doctoral student Anders Janzon.
The research team analyzed the drinking water, lake water and wastewater in an area in Dhaka in Bangladesh, where the bacterium Helicobacter pylori is very common. The results show that while the diarrhea bacterium ETEC is often present in the drinking water, Helicobacter pylori is not. Other studies have shown that new cases of Helicobacter pylori tend to pop up in connection with various diarrheal illnesses, and this pointed the research team in the right direction.
“We analyzed vomit and diarrhea from cholera patients, and found large amounts of active Helicobacter pylori. We therefore conclude that vomit is a very likely source of new infections,” says Janzon.
Helicobacter pylori is one of the most common disease-causing bacteria among humans. Nearly 90 percent of the populations in developing countries are infected. The bacterium produces an enzyme that turns urea into carbon dioxide and ammonia, which in turn neutralises the gastric acid in the stomach. The infection can cause ulcers on the lining of the stomach and of the duodenum if it is left untreated, and these conditions can be deadly. The bacterium is also the main cause of stomach cancer.