Interpreting the 13C-urea breath test among a large population of young children from a developing country

Pediatr Res. 1999 Aug;46(2):147-51. doi: 10.1203/00006450-199908000-00003.


The 13C-urea breath test is a noninvasive tool for the diagnosis of gastric Helicobacter pylori infection. However, it has not been validated in young children from the developing world, where infection is very common. 13C urea breath tests were performed on 1532 occasions on 247 Gambian infants and children aged from 3 to 48 mo. The means and variances of the separate sub-populations of 13C enrichment results contained within the overall dataset were estimated by a Genstat procedure using the EM algorithm, thereby identifying a cut-off value to discriminate positive from negative results. To illustrate the appropriateness of this calculated cut-off value, 13C urea breath tests were performed upon a small group of 14 patients aged 6 to 28 mo undergoing diagnostic upper endoscopy. Fixed gastric antral biopsies were examined to identify H. pylori. Two subpopulations were identified within the large dataset. A cut-off value of 5.47 delta per thousand relative to Pee Dee Belemnite limestone above baseline at 30 min identified 95% of the normally distributed negative sub-population and 99.4% of the log normal distributed positive sub-population. Comparison with endoscopic data confirmed that this cut-off value was appropriate for this population, as 7/7 children without H. pylori on their gastric biopsies had negative urea breath tests, and 6/7 children with gastric H. pylori colonization had positive urea breath tests. These findings confirm the value of the urea breath test as a diagnostic tool in young children from developing countries. They also offer a way to calculate the most appropriate cut-off value for use in different populations and the likelihood that it will correctly assign any value into the appropriate sub-population, without the need for endoscopy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breath Tests*
  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Child, Preschool
  • Developing Countries
  • Helicobacter Infections / diagnosis*
  • Helicobacter Infections / epidemiology
  • Helicobacter pylori*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Urea*


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Urea