Helicobacter pylori is a common bacteria found in the stomachs of many children. In fact, some studies suggest that up to 50 percent of the world’s population carries this bacteria. In the industrialized world, however, the incidence is much lower.
Children contract H. pylori by the fecal-oral, gastric-oral, or oral-oral route. Risk factors for infection include poor socioeconomic status, childcare, close living quarters, poor hygiene, and living with another person who has H. pylori. There is also evidence that there is an ethnic or genetic predisposition. Asian Americans, African Americans, and Hispanics get infected at about the same rate as children in developing countries.
H. pylori can cause a variety of gastrointestinal diseases in young children, including gastritis and duodenal ulcers. However, most pediatric patients who have H. pylori show no signs or symptoms. If they do have symptoms, one common symptom is discomfort at the top part of the stomach or vomiting.
If your child has a history of stomach or intestinal ulcers, he or she should be tested for H. pylori. It is also important to re-test after treatment to make sure the bacteria has been eradicated, especially if there are ongoing symptoms.
H. pylori testing is not recommended if your child shows no symptoms, has recurrent abdominal pain, or if there is a family history of ulcers.
The most reliable way to diagnose H. pylori infection is by endoscopy. If the pediatrician is concerned that your child may be infected with this bacteria, a GI doctor may insert a small camera into the mouth and down the esophagus, then biopsies and samples are obtained to be sent to the lab for further testing. However, there are risks and significant costs to this procedure, so it is not always the best test to use for diagnosis. Your child’s doctor may also order a blood or stool test to look for the presence of the bacteria.
If your child is diagnosed with H. pylori, the pediatrician or GI specialist will most likely put him on three separate medications—two antibiotics and an acid reducer—for fourteen days.
Recent studies suggest that H. pylori infection in children is associated with stomach cancer later in life, so be sure to talk to your child’s pediatrician if you are concerned about this bacteria.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, February 2019
- Children can contract H. pylori through poor hygiene, child care, or living with another person who has the bacteria.
- Most pediatric patients who have H. pylori show no signs or symptoms.
- If your child has a history of stomach or intestinal ulcers, they should be tested for H. pylori.
- Children who had the H. pylori infection are at a higher risk for stomach cancer later in life.