Is H Pylori Contagious?
Given the prevalence of H pylori infection, many people want to know.. is H pylori contagious? With such high infection rates, what can I do to prevent myself or my child from catching it?
About H Pylori
If you did not know already, Helicobacter pylori (typically abbreviated as H pylori) is a bacterium which makes its home in the human stomach and intestines. It burrows itself in the lining and once there it can complete its entire life-cycle. In other words, once in place, H pylori can live inside of our digestive tract for our entire lifetime.
The problem with this bacterium is that it causes Helicobacter pylori gastritis, an inflammation of the stomach lining, which may lead to stomach ulcer symptoms and ultimately ulcers or even gastric cancer in old age.
By now you must be wondering, how do you catch H pylori? And if you do have it, is H pylori contagious?
Is H Pylori Contagious?
The true answer to this is that we do not really know how H pylori is spread from one person to another. We do however know four important things about it which can help us come up with ways to protect yourself and your loved ones from this infection:
1. If one person in a family has H pylori, is is likely that everyone in the household is infected.
This makes us want to believe that H pylori is contagious if it seems to spread in the family. Given that it does not seem to spread with casual contact, the most commonly suspected vector of transmission is via fecal matter. Note that this suspicion is also due to the fact that most digestive tract diseases (such as E. coli) are transmitted via fecal matter.
Before you dismiss that vector of transmission, think about someone using the bathroom and not washing their hands adequately, then preparing food for the family or even putting their hands in a bag of chips that the rest of the family eats out of.
However, this may not be the case. It could be just that all family members partook in a certain event, such as traveling abroad or drinking contaminated water (see below).
2. H pylori is much more prevalent in developing nations (once called “third-world countries”) than it is modernized countries.
There is a strong correlation between lack of a good sewage system and H pylori rates. In many developing nations, the majority of the population has H pylori. In more industrialized nations, less than half have H pylori. This is more evidence that H pylori may spread from fecal contamination.
3. H pylori can be found in the drinking water in developing nations.
Many developing nations do not treat H pylori as re-infection via drinking water is practically guaranteed. H pylori is usually not treated in these nations unless necessary, such as in the case of an advanced ulcer. Gastritis is frequently not considered a medical condition in places where medical care is not widely available.
4. If you catch H pylori once, you are much more likely to catch it again, particularly if you live in a third-world nation.
This is in part due to the drinking water and lack of a sewer system. However, this also could be that family members who have the infection but do not know it are passing it on to their relatives.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that while we do not know if H pylori is contagious, we do know that there are certain risk factors for contracting it:
- Not practicing good hygiene
- Having a family member with H pylori
- Traveling in developing nations
You can mitigate your and your loved ones risks of catching H pylori by practicing good hygiene (always washing hands before eating and after using the bathroom) and by avoiding travelling in developing nations.
If you do end up traveling or if another member of your household tests positive for H pylori, you could always get tested. Ask your doctor about a H pylori test, particularly the urea breath test; a non-invasive, inexpensive, and quite accurate test for H pylori infection.