Almost one in three New Yorkers is walking around with a very particular stomach disease, and they probably don’t even know it. He told us he’d just been to New York gastroenterologist Dr. Moushumi Sanghavi for chronic heartburn that kept him up at night. She performed an endoscopy where they send a tiny camera down your throat, eek and diagnosed him with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Then, a week later the biopsy results came back with something else: Our coworker had tested positive for a stomach disease called Helicobactor pylori, H.pylori for short. Dr. Sanghavi tells Mashable that about 30% or more of New Yorkers have it, due to the city’s large and dense population that includes a high rate of immigrants — only many have no idea.
That devilish pathogen, or tiny microorganism, causes an infection that tortures your gut. H.pylori hangs out in your gastric mucus or stomach lining, and can inhabit you for years, even for life if left untreated. However, 20% of those infected will suffer from recurring pain and other symptoms.
The side effects can range from nausea to burning pain, specifically on an empty stomach at night (also known as the most unfavorable time to have a burning abdomen). Another common and annoying symptom is a stomach ulcer, which is an open sore in your stomach. From the ulcer, bleeding can occur and it can be either slow and unobtrusive until the affected is anemic or fast and in the form of black stool.
Other than ulcers, H.pylori is also the single greatest risk factor for gastric cancer, says Holly M. S. Algood, Ph.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University who has been working with H.pylori since 2004. And often, it takes years before the cancer is detected. Because of this, it is the only bacterium classified by the World Health Organization as a Class I carcinogen. Although there was an estimated 11,000 deaths by gastric cancer in 2014, rates of survival have increased nearly twofold in the last five years, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Understanding of how H.pylori spreads is lacking. Most research points towards oral contact with infected pet or human fecal matter; oral to oral transmission is also a possibility, says Algood. Because it can be spread through contaminated food and water, emerging countries with poor sanitation can have extremely high rates of the infection, practically 90%, according to the World Health Organization.
Most often, individuals won’t get tested for H.pylori due to familiar and minor digestive symptoms. Noninvasive tests of sampling stool or breath, or invasive tests of tissue biopsies can be completed. Antibiotics are the common form of treatment, and eradicate the bacterium in about two weeks. But reinfection is always possible.
A vaccination is in the works but has yet to be acquired for human trial. Meanwhile, probiotics are a possible and upcoming treatment, as well as simply living symbiotically with the bacterium. Since the bacterium’s source is unknown, prevention is a good guess at best, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests washing hands thoroughly and often, as well as eating well-prepared foods and clean water. Read more…