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Campylobacter pylori is the former name for Helicobacter pylori, a type of gram-negative, spiral-shaped bacteria. These bacteria are found fairly commonly in the upper digestive system, especially in adults. Many times the bacteria cause no symptoms but can sometimes cause diseases, such as ulcers and stomach cancer. Infection with the bacteria can be treated, but experts are still researching if and how the spread of it can be prevented.
When it was first discovered, the bacterium was thought to be part of the Campylobacter genus, related to such bacteria as Campylobacter jejuni. Further research in the late 1980s, however, revealed that the Campylobacter pylori bacterium had properties that made it different enough to be classified on its own, hence the name change to Helicobacter pylori, or H. pylori. The two names are still used interchangeably, as each refers to the same organism.
While officially discovered and named in the early 1980s, Campylobacter pylori had been the subject of studies starting as early as the 1890s. Even then, scientists believed the organism might play some role in stomach problems, as it was often found in the gastric juices of individuals experiencing various stomach symptoms. Today, several studies have shown that H. pylori are present in the stomachs of at least half of the world’s population and in up to 80 percent of people with stomach ulcers. Symptoms usually only show up in a small number of infected people and may include heartburn, stomach pain, nausea and vomiting. These symptoms are often due to the bacteria causing irritation and inflammation in the lining of the stomach and upper intestine, which can go on to cause ulcers, gastritis and, over longer periods of time, stomach cancer.
To diagnose an H. pylori infection, several tests can be used. Non-invasive tests can include blood, breath and fecal tests to look for signs of an infection,. These tests may not be able to actually look for the bacteria itself. A more invasive test where a tube is inserted down the throat and into the stomach, however, can typically take samples of the stomach lining to actually look for active H. pylori bacteria.
Infection with H. pylori can often be treated with antibiotics. Once the bacteria is killed, the body can often heal the damage on its own, but in many cases, additional medications are needed. This is especially true in the case of stomach cancer, where killing the bacteria with antibiotics alone is not curative.
Experts are still researching if and how the bacteria spread. Early studies of Campylobacter pylori showed some evidence that it may spread through the fecal-oral route. Infections appeared to be more numerous in places where living conditions made food and water contamination with fecal material more common. More recent studies of the now-named Helicobacter pylori have shown similar results. While not conclusive, some health-care providers use these studies as evidence to recommend careful hygienic practices as a possible prevention tool for this and other infections that are spread via the fecal-oral route.