July 17, 2017
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Araujo Boira, R. and Hanninen, ML . (2017). Helicobacter pylori. In: J.B. Rose and B. Jiménez-Cisneros, (eds) Water and Sanitation for the 21st Century: Health and Microbiological Aspects of Excreta and Wastewater Management (Global Water Pathogen Project). ( A. Pruden, N. Ashbolt and J. Miller (eds), Part 3: Specific Excreted Pathogens: Environmental and Epidemiology Aspects - Section 2: Bacteria), Michigan State University, E. Lansing, MI, UNESCO.
Acknowledgements: K.R.L. Young, Project Design editor; Website Design Agroknow (http://www.agroknow.com)
|Last published: July 17, 2017|
Helicobacter pylori is a human-associated bacterium, colonizing the stomach. It is estimated that H. pylori infection affects more than half of the adult population worldwide and it is a causative agent of chronic gastritis, having a major role in promoting the development of peptic ulcer disease and non-cardia adenocarcinoma of the stomach. Wide variations in the prevalence and incidence between regions and population groups exist. Approximately, one-third of adults in North Europe and North America carry H. pylori, whereas in south and east Europe, South America, Africa and Asia, the prevalence of H. pylori is often higher than 50%. Although the way the infection is transmitted is still unclear, interpersonal transmission appears to be the main route. Epidemiological evidence also suggests the possible role of waterborne transmission. H. pylori infection usually starts in early childhood gastritis and remains as a chronic, persistent infection for decades. Interestingly, only a minority of infected individuals actually develop gastric diseases, which can include: chronic gastritis, peptic ulcer, mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and gastric adenocarcinoma in adults. H. pylori is a Gram-negative helical or spiral-shaped microaerophilic bacterium with multiple sheathed flagella at each pole of the bacterial cell. It belongs to the family Helicobacteraceae and classe epsilonproteobacteria. The cells are 2 to 4 µm long and 0.2 to 1.0 um wide. H. pylori is catalase-positive and has a potent urease enzyme, which is of particular importance in cytoplasmic pH homeostasis. This ability enables its survival in the strongly acidic gastric mucosal environment and colonization of the stomach. Glucose appears to be the only carbohydrate utilized by this obligate microaerophilic bacterium. Amino acids are potential sources of carbon, nitrogen, and energy.
There are two possible routes of transmission of H. pylori: oral-oral and fecal-oral. The oral-oral route is well-established and is the most likely route of infection in childhood. The fecal-oral route is much more controversial because H. pylori has rarely been cultivated from feces, although the presence of the bacterial antigens and DNA in the feces of infected people is common. The human stomach is considered to be the main reservoir of H. pylori. There are no clear trends in population susceptibility, with the exception that most of the infections are acquired during childhood. The incidence is mostly affected by living conditions of the community, such as low economic status, poor sanitation, and crowded household conditions. Epidemiological data consistently indicate that living standards associated with improved hygiene are associated with distinct reduction in the infection prevalence. H. pylori is a slow growing microaerophilic microorganism, requiring a complex growth medium supplemented by blood or derivatives. Isolation of H. pylori by culture from water has rarely been achieved, due to its growth requirements and that in water or in biofilms the bacteria are mostly in the viable but non-culturable (VBNC) state. However, molecular techniques have successfully been applied to detect H. pylori in the environment. The bacterium contaminates water principally through human excreta. H. pylori can be identified more readily in human feces with antigen tests and PCR than with culture. The presence of H. pylori in feces reinforces the possibility of the fecal-oral transmission route. As well, the presence of H. pylori in sewage water has been confirmed by some studies. In general, H. pylori has been detected worldwide in water, including surface water, well water, drinking water and fecally-polluted seawater through the application of molecular techniques. Nevertheless, most works have found no correlation between the presence of H. pylori and fecal indicators. Protective microniches for H. pylori in aquatic systems have been proposed, including biofilms and protozoa. The survival of different strains has been studied under controlled conditions where culturable cells of H. pylori are intentionally introduced to the water. Under such conditions, bacteria lose cultivability after 1 to 14 days, but VBNC cells persist much longer. Data indicates and VBNC cells may infect and resuscitate in mice, but it is unknown if this also occurs in people. Thus, adequate sanitary conditions may be important for reducing the transmission of H. pylori. Nevertheless, there are few data available on the fate of H. pylori during sanitation management and research is needed to inform effective management practices.
Helicobacter pylori is a human-associated bacterium colonizing the human stomach. It is estimated that H. pylori infection affects more than half of the worldwide adult population (Table 1). H. pylori has a major role in promoting the development of peptic ulcer disease and non-cardia adenocarcinoma of the stomach. H. pylori is estimated to be responsible for 75% of all gastric cancer cases (Graham, 2014). It is therefore of major public health interest.
The reasons for different trends are not fully understood. Low socioeconomic conditions in childhood are known to be the most important risk factors for H. pylori infection. This suggests that the transmission is mostly oral-oral and is associated with close contact within families and transmission of the infection from parents to children and between children. Attending daycare has also been shown increase the risk of transmission. Also, poor sanitary and hygienic conditions are reported risk factors, suggesting a potential role of water (or lack thereof) in transmission. Although the way the infection is transmitted is still unclear, interpersonal transmission appears to be the main route (Mentis et al., 2015), but there is also epidemiologic evidence for the possible role of waterborne transmission (Aziz et al., 2015; Bellack et al., 2006).
H. pylori infection usually starts in early childhood with gastritis and remains as a chronic, persistent infection for decades. Interestingly, only a minority of infected individuals actually develop gastric diseases, which can include: chronic gastritis, peptic ulcer, mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and gastric adenocarcinoma in adults (Graham, 2014). It is still not clear whether early childhood colonization causes any specific symptoms. Studies have shown that the onset of colonization in adults can trigger symptoms such as hypochlorhydria, nausea or gastric pain (Atherton and Blaser, 2009).
H. pylori belongs to the family Helicobacteraceae and class epsilonproteobacteria.The genus Helicobacter contains 36 described species that have been validated at this point in time (http://www.bacterio.net/index.html) and is divided according to their major colonization sites as gastric or lower intestinal tract associated bacterial species.
H. pylori is microaerophilic, catalase-positive, and has specialized mechanisms for pH homeostasis, including a potent urease enzyme. The ability to maintain the internal pH enables its survival in the gastric mucus and to colonize the stomach. Glucose appears to be the only carbohydrate utilized by this obligate microaerophilic bacterium. Amino acids are potential sources of carbon, nitrogen, and energy (Mobley, 2001). It is a genetically-diverse gastric pathogen, carrying a range of antibiotic resistance patterns, and varies in geographic occurrence (Secka et al., 2013).
H. pylori is a Gram-negative helical or spiral-shaped microaerophilic bacterium with multiple sheathed flagella at each pole of the bacterial cell. The cells are 2-4 µm long and 0.2-1.0 µm wide. In aged cultures and in water or other stressful conditions (inside and outside of gastric mucosa), viable but non-culturable (VBNC) coccoid forms of the cells dominate (Fernández-Delgado et al., 2016; Loke et al., 2016). The genome size is small, approximately 1.6 Mbp (G+C 39%). It was cultivated and described for the first time in 1982 (Marshall and Warren, 1984).
Studies carried out over the last three decades indicate that there are two possible routes of transmission of H. pylori: oral-oral and fecal-oral. The oral-oral route is well-established and is the most likely route of infection in childhood. A large number of epidemiological studies have indicated that crowed family conditions, low socioeconomic status and poor hygienic practices, especially in childhood, are risk factors associated with acquisition of the infection. The presence of H. pylori in the mouth, saliva and vomit of infected persons supports the oral transmission. Moreover, several epidemiological studies have shown that the bacterium is transmitted by persons close to the children, especially mothers (Mentis et al., 2015).
There are no confirmed data on zoonotic transmission of Helicobacter pylori from animals to humans.
H. pylori can cause a chronic infection. The infection is acquired during childhood, but symptoms generally do not appear until adulthood and vary from person to person (Graham, 2014; Mentis et al., 2015).
With the exception that most of the infections are acquired during childhood, there are no clear trends in population susceptibility. The incidence is mostly affected by living conditions, such as low economic status, poor sanitation, and crowded household conditions. A few studies have demonstrated that transmission can occur between adults, especially within couples or persons living together (Kivi et al., 2003; Perez-Perez et al., 1991).
Variable prevalence within social groups living in the same area may exist. In Brazil, different infection rates have been observed among children of low versus high socioeconomic status. In Colombia, people living in the Andes Mountains have a much higher gastric cancer incidence compared to the low costal region. In both areas, the incidence of H. pylori, the origin of the gastric cancer, is the same. Notably, differences in cancer occurrence rate have been related to the ancestral origin of H. pylori strains in both populations. The prevalence of the highly-virulent European strains is more dominant among people inhabiting the mountain area, while the African strains are more frequently detected in coastal areas, likely explaining the higher incidence of the gastric cancer (de Sablet et al., 2011).
No vaccines are currently available, but there has been some effort towards development (Blanchard et al., 2004).
All epidemiological data show that the living standards associated with improved hygiene (toilets, running water, safe drinking water, possibility for hand washing within families) are associated with distinct reduction in the infection prevalence (Gomes and De Martinis, 2004). In most of the high standard of living countries, the prevalence is nowadays low and a decreasing trend has been noted (Graham, 2014; Mentis et al., 2015).
The gold standard for H. pylori detection from clinical samples is culture. However, the applicably of this method to H. pylori detection from environmental samples is problematic due to the predominance of VBNC states (including coccoidal cells) in the environment. Most attempts to isolate H. pylori from the aquatic environment have failed. Nonetheless, other methods based on molecular techniques have demonstrated that it does exist as potentially active cells in the aquatic environment (Table 2, 3, and 4).
Isolates have been obtained from clinical samples, which present the advantage of enabling bacterial strain characterization. H. pylori is a fastidious microorganism, requiring a complex growth medium supplemented by blood or derivatives (Velázquez and Feirtag, 1999). While there is not a standard method, Brucella or Columbia agar supplemented with 5% to 15% of horse or sheep blood or fetal calf serum and antibiotics, such as Skirrow or Dent supplements, are commonly used. Specific growth media can be obtained from commercial companies.
Culture conditions are critical for successful isolation of H. pylori. As it is a microaerophilic bacterium, an adequate atmosphere between 3% to 7% of O2 and 5% to 10% of CO2 is needed. After an incubation time between 3 days to 7 days at 37ºC with humidity, small, translucent colonies should appear, about 0.5 mm to 2 mm in diameter. Bacterial identification has been based on a battery of phenotypic tests, the most important being morphology of the cells, staining gram-negative, and positive reaction for urease, catalase and oxidase tests.
H. pylori have been isolated from cathartic human feces (Parsonnet and Shmuely, 1999) and from probably malnourished children from Gambia (Thomas et al., 1992) but not from routine culture fecal samples, where the bacteria is frequently in a VBNC state. As a consequence, its presence is mostly detected with other methods, such as PCR, or especially with stool antigens enzyme immunoassay.
H. pylori has been repeatedly detected in the aquatic environment, applying other techniques such as microscopy (Hegarty et al., 1999), autoradiography, ATP, or molecular techniques. Molecular techniques that have successfully been applied to detect H. pylori in the environment include fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), PCR or qPCR (Moreno-Mesonero et al., 2016). Microarrays to detect its presence jointly with other pathogens from food and in sewage have been also designed (Kostić et al.2010; Li et al., 2015).
Often a pre-treatment before bacterial detection, such as sample concentration by filtering or immunomagnetic beads, is applied to reduce inhibitors and /or competitors. Monoclonal-based immunomagnetic separation has been very useful to enable detection both by molecular methods (Flanigan and Rodgers, 2003; Hulten et al., 1996; Monteiro et al., 2001; Sasaki et al., 1999) and culture (Lu et al., 2002; Moreno and Ferrús, 2012; Watson et al., 2004).
PCR is the most widely-applied technique, with several gene fragments targeted: urease (ureA) or (ureC), adhesion (hpsA), citotoxin CagA (cagA), vaculizing (vacA), glmM (Labigne et al., 1991; Shahamat et al., 2004) and also 16S rRNA of genus and species specific (Chisholm et al., 2001; Ho et al., 1991; Logan et al., 2000). The sensitivity and specificity of these techniques has not been established, in addition they might be subject to variability: according to the characteristics of the strains, samples, type of matrix, presence of inhibitors, concentration of the bacteria, extraction method, etc. Often more complementary techniques have been applied. For example, its 16S rRNA gene has been confirmed along with the presence of ureA or vacA (Mazari-Hiriart et al., 2001; Nayak and Rose, 2007) or by sequencing (Twing et al., 2011).
More research is needed to develop techniques that allow determination of both the presence and infectivity of water-associated H. pylori. Such techniques should be effective for both chlorinated and unchlorinated water samples and should also take into consideration possible protective niches of H. pylori, such as biofilms and/or protozoa. In particular, new media better adapted to isolate the bacteria from different matrices, and new molecular techniques such as PMA qPCR that distinguish viable cells, would be very useful.
Isolation of H. pylori by cultivation from water has rarely been achieved. Lu et al. (2002) isolated for the first time the bacteria from untreated sewage water. Since then few groups have isolated the bacteria, probably because in water or in biofilms the bacteria are mostly in a VBNC state or, if not, they are fastidious slow-growing microorganisms (Lu et al., 2002). In the last two years H. pylori has been cultured from drinking water, but not in pure culture, with its presence among accompanying microbiota confirmed by PCR (El-Sharouny et al., 2015; Santiago et al., 2015). Recently Ranjbar et al. (2016) published the isolation of H. pylori from 8 out of 450 bottled mineral water samples in Iran, with a low-level of co-culture of non-target microbiota (Ranjbar et al., 2016).
The bacterium contaminates water principally through human excreta. However, as it is difficult to culture, most of the environmental data about its presence are qualitative, with little quantitative information. Lack of quantitative data makes it difficult to estimate the fate of the bacterium through the water cycle. Further research is needed in order to fulfil this gap.
DNA/RNA of H. pylori has been detected worldwide in water applying molecular techniques. The application of PCR-based methods (Engstrand, 2001; Gomes and De Martinis, 2004; Hulten et al., 1996; Nayak and Rose, 2007), FISH (Moreno et al., 2003) and some others (Enroth and Engstrand, 1995; Hegarty et al., 1999) have demonstrated the presence of H. pylori in different types of waters: sewage, rivers, lakes, ground water, wells and drinking water (Table 2, 3, and 4).
H. pylori can be detected in human feces using different techniques. Most of the analyses include the stool antigen test with a mean sensitivity and specificity of 92% and 92.2% respectively (Gisbert and Pajares, 2004). PCR has also been used to identify the presence of Helicobacter in feces (Mapstone et al., 1993; Queralt et al., 2005). However, the presence of the antigen or DNA does not prove that infective organisms are present. Some researchers have successfully cultured H. pylori from feces (Kelly et al. 1994; Parsonnet and Shmuely, 1999; Thomas et al., 1992), but the recovery percentages are very low, because media were not appropriate to isolate this fastidious organism (Dore et al., 2005) or because many cells in stool are transformed into coccoid or VBNC cells (Kabir, 2001). The presence of H. pylori in feces reinforces the possibility of a fecal-oral transmission route.
The presence of H. pylori in sewage water has been confirmed by some studies. In 2007, Nayak and Rose detected by qPCR this species in 87% of the analyzed samples with a concentration between 2.0×103 to 2.8×104 cells/L from a wastewater plant in Michigan (Nayak and Rose, 2007) (Table 2). More recently, Moreno and Ferrús (2012) cultivated the bacterium in six out of 23 positive wastewater plant samples in Spain (Moreno and Ferrús, 2012) and in a range of wastewater and receiving waters in Michigan, USA (Bai et al., 2016).
Helicobacter has been detected in water aqueducts 3.6 x104 copies/L and 3.3x103 copies/L (Montero-campos et al., 2015) (Table 3).
Isolations were first reported from polluted canal water in 2002 (Lu et al., 2002). Since then, there have been a few reports of cultivation from water. For example, isolation from municipal drinking water in Iraq (Al-Sulami et al., 2010), in Spain from drinking water using an elaborate isolation technique (Moreno and Ferrús, 2012; Santiago et al., 2015) and in Iran from tap water and dental unit water (Bahrami et al., 2013).
The difficulty in obtaining colonies on agar plates from environmental samples principally lies on the fact that H. pylori is a fastidious bacterium with a relatively slow growth rate. Therefore, its isolation from polluted water can be easily masked by outcompeting microbiota with simpler nutritional requirements and faster growth rates. Also, as discussed above, VBNC coccoid cells rapidly form with exposure to aquatic environments.
Biofilms and protozoa are of special interest as protective microhabitats for viable H. pylori in the aquatic environment. The presence of H. pylori in biofilms has been demonstrated. In this habitat the bacteria are protected from harsh conditions and may persist longer than in water (Azevedo et al., 2006; Gião et al., 2008). As well, survival within the free-living amoeba, Acanthamoeba, has been demonstrated under lab conditions (Moreno-Mesonero et al., 2016; Winiecka-Krusnell et al., 2009). In any case more evidence is needed to understand the importance of these habitats.
It is difficult to relate the presence of H. pylori with specific water characteristics. However, its presence has generally been related with fecal pollution, accordingly the most probable sources of the bacteria in the environment (Lu et al., 2002; Moreno and Ferrús, 2012; Queralt et al., 2005). Thus, adequate sanitary conditions are likely to pose benefits for reducing transmission of H. pylori.
H. pylori has been detected in a few studies from seawater (Carbone et al., 2005; Cellini et al., 1994; Holman et al., 2014). Nonetheless, viable H. pylori cells appear to persist in seawater to an even lesser degree than they do for freshwater (West et al., 1990).
The persistence and survival of H. pylori in the aquatic environment has been studied applying various techniques, but there are numerous knowledge gaps. The bacteria lose their cultivability within 1 to 14 days, with reductions between 5 up to 7 log10 in all the studies, but survive as VBNC cells for much longer. The survival of different strains has been essentially studied in controlled lab studies such as inoculating into autoclaved distilled water (Azevedo et al., 2008), bottled mineral water (Queralt and Araujo, 2007), chlorinated water (Moreno et al., 2007) or river water (Adams et al., 2003).
Environmental conditions can trigger morphological changes, but, only temperature has been directly associated with survival. Specifically, the bacterium survives longer at cold temperatures. Water above 20ºC induces a quick decrease of cultivability (Adams et al., 2003; Nayak and Rose, 2007). Other factors such as white light rapidly induced the VBNC state (Buck and Oliver, 2010). When the persistence has been analyzed with molecular techniques, such as PCR or qPCR (Nayak and Rose, 2007; Queralt and Araujo, 2007), the DNA can remain detectable for much longer. However, its presence in the media is not always indicative of infective cells, which is the ultimate concern.
No available information could be found regarding waterless sanitation, water-based sanitation, coupled engineered and environmental-based systems, wastewater treatment facilities, sewage sludge treatment or by disinfection as a tertiary treatment.
There is no known surrogate for H. pylori reported in the literature, probably because it is difficult to find bacteria with similar characteristics. When H. pylori is in its active and free spiral form, its behavior may not be very different from that observed for other Gram-negative bacteria, particularly Campylobacter. However, their sensitivity in the face of sanitation treatments may change when under stress conditions, transforming to VBNC coccoid forms or when it is within biofilms or protozoa (Moreno-Mesonero et al., 2016; Percival and Suleman, 2014).
Research available on disinfectants has shown rapid inactivation of culturable cells, but, the comparison of the 2 log10 reduction of one strain of H. pylori and one of E. coli showed that H. pylori is more resistant to chlorine and ozone but not monochloramine than E. coli, with a CT99 of 0.299 mg/liter.min versus 0.119 mg/liter.min for chlorine and a CT99 0.24 mg/liter.min versus 0.09 mg/liter.min for ozone (Baker et al., 2002). A more recent work would indicate survival following normal UV wastewater treatment (Bai et al., 2016). But further research is needed in this area.