Background: The incidence of 'true' re-infection with Helicobacter pylori after successful eradication remains uncertain.
Aim: To determine the worldwide rates, risk factors and clinical implications of 'true' re-infection of Helicobacter pylori. 'True' re-infection of H. pylori is defined as the situation where tests for H. pylori infection, which were negative for 12 months after eradication, become positive again at a later stage.
Results: Thirty six studies were identified through a literature search to be able to produce annual rates of 'true' re-infection, and data from 33 original articles were considered reliable and adequate in the further review. Generally, the reported rates varied from 0% to 23.4% in adults and from 1.9% to 9.6% in children. Most studies from developed countries reported rates of less than 1%, whereas relatively higher rates were reported in most of the developing countries. Small sample sizes included in the studies appeared to be associated with increased re-infection rates. Interfamilial transmission is the major cause of re-infection, although iatrogenic re-infection through contaminated endoscopic equipment has been reported.
Conclusion: Helicobacter pylori re-infection is not a concern in a clinical setting, especially in the developed world; however, caution must be exercised in most developing countries.